Posted by Navleen on August 14, 2014 | No Comments
With a persona that defines him as man of few yet influential words; there is a nostalgia that starts weaving within especially when one gets to know that he had worked in Doordarshan, Jalandhar for 21 years. Director, producer, writer, illustrator Harjit Singh, 64, had worked with Doordarshan in the era when unlike today instead of browsing channels then watching any most of the time was spent by being glued to serials that had reflection of our lives, when DD was the only source of entertainment and it’s lure invincible.
The subject of the serials that he adopted at that time speaks volume about him. Today, when he is directing a biopic on Bhagat Puran Singh— Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe; the audience of Punjab will get a chance to witness a story of a very prominent man by a thought provoking filmmaker.
Singh who is in the post production stage of his upcoming flick, happily recalls his initial years along with divulging more about his current project, being inspired by Jim Henson’s work and also an unfulfilled dream.
Take us to your early days?
I was born and brought up in Jagroan. After doing my post graduation in Punjabi literature from Panjab University, Chandigarh, I did PhD in folk art of Punjab from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. In fact the PhD happened while I was working at Doordarshan.
With no formal training in direction or TV production, how did you land up a job in Doordarshan?
When I was doing my PhD at GNDU, a friend used to go to DD for part time news reading. Once a graphic designer was required and he took me along to work for few days. I found it very fascinating and later applied for the job there. I joined DD in 1977 and was sent to Film and TV institute of India, Pune to do a diploma in TV production for eight month training. That was the turning as well as learning point for me. In the film that I made over there called Chat aur Deeware, it had Om Puri in it.
Describe your experiences of working in Doordarshan, Jalandhar?
I worked as a program producer followed by assistant station director and my work consisted of directing serials along with making documentaries. My first serial was Supne te Parshave which was one of the longest serials. From serial such as Gardish, based on Gurdial Singh’s Aadh Chanani Raat to telefilm Chaveyan di Rutt to short films like Saide Hawas that had huge sets and war scenes; most of my work was based on literary stories. As there was only one channel at that time, the work was undoubtedly thrilling. The connectivity of viewers was immense. There used to be instant reaction and immediate feedback from them. Though technology wasn’t advance but still things seemed to be easier at that time. Because when you don’t have many resources, the way you work is pretty exhilarating. Some new year’s programs such as Larra Lappa and Hulle Hullare that were started by me became instant hit. It was the time period when terrorism in Punjab was at it’s peak, hence these New year’s programs were an effort to entertain viewers.
Documentaries have also been very much a part of your career. Eh Janam Tumahre Lekhe is said to be an offshoot of one your documentary?
I made documentaries on diverse subjects. At the same time I was quite firm to keep myself away from promotional subjects. Some of the well received documentaries were—In Quest of Le Corbusier’s India, based on Chandigarh and then a documentary on miniature paintings from Jammu to Kinnaur for which I travelled throughout Himachal. During that time Padam Shri Awardee Bhagat Puran Singh was alive and I made a documentary on him—His Sacred Burden. Writer, environmentalist, philanthropist, Bhagat Puran Singh is the founder of Pingalwara, a home for sick, disabled and deserted forlorn people. Post his death, All India Pingalwara Charitable Society approached me for making more documentaries on him. Puran Singh’s life is so fascinating that I always thought that a documentary is not enough for it.
Describe more about Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe in detail.
The film that has been made on the budget of 3 crores is being produced by All India Pingalwara Charitable Society. Pawan Malhotra is playing Bhagat Puran Singh’s character. Besides him, I have deliberately taken newcomers, theatre actors and character artists from places such as Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana etc. It’s an honest film depicting all the minute details about his life. So far we have got positive reaction at all the trial shows. I would really want everyone to watch this film for the simple reason that this man selflessly devoted his entire life to handicap, mentally retarded and sick people without caring about himself. The dedication that he had needs to be brought in front of people. Puran Singh had written an autobiography which didn’t get complete. Some of the scenes have been recreated based on the facts that we came across in that autobiography. Bibi Inderjeet Kaur who had known him very closely has helped up in providing many inputs.
Nowadays documentaries and short films are finding audience, even feature films are hinging on ‘real’ subjects. Where does your heart lay—documentaries or films?
I enjoy documentaries the most. In this process, the unit is small as one requires only a cameraman which makes your grip stronger. In a feature, one has to be dependent on artists and most of the time is wasted in coordination. Coming to making a biopic, honesty is the foremost thing that one requires. The budget is limited and one cannot take commercial liberties. If there is no honestly in it, then the biopic doesn’t have any meaning.
Share about the films that you directed before this?
My first feature was Vaisakhi which was the first film that released after 1984 riots in Punjab. It released at a time when people had stopped going to cinema halls. It casted Deep Dhillon, Adarsh Gautam, Arun Bali, Sunita Dheer, Sardool Sikander, Amar Noorie etc. Based on Mukhtar Gill’s short story Palna, it revolved around problems of common farmers. Made on the budget of 17 lakh it ran for six weeks which was a good number at that time. The producers ran out of money in the middle of it and I had to complete it by the help of my provident fund and collecting money from friends. The film received lot of critical acclaim. My second film was Heer Ranjha that starred Harbhajan Mann and Neeru Bajwa in it. In a period film like this it is always a challenge to create that phase, costumes, ambience etc.
And who how did animation that now holds an important place in your heart, enter your life?
When satellite channels stepped in and I wasn’t getting chance to do my kind of work at DD, I took voluntarily retirement in 1998. It was followed by starting up a workshop at Jalandhar for doing some experiments in animation. I got introduced to animation when I went to Germany for advance training in TV production. Also during my DD days, I had to watch various foreign films before they were previewed on TV. Those films had elements of animation in it. Whatever knowledge I have of animation is by observation, reading books and magazines. With that I had learnt to make characters with the use of animatronics, robotics and latex puppets. Almost 14 years back we had set up a studio in Jalandhar called Poonieland Studios. Besides lot of freelance work that I did in it, four years back I had written and produced my son Param Shiv’s six minute long film ‘Lost and Found’ which was made on stop animation technique. This won him the top slot on “Premier- The short film competition”, a nationwide contest inviting short film projects from amateurs and professionals on the movie channel UTV World Movies. Hugely inspired by Jim Henson, I still live with a dream of directing an animation film for children whose script I’m currently busy writing.
Interviewed by Navleen Kaur Lakhi