“I’m happy acting rather than taking on the stress of a producer.” – Jimmy Sheirgill
Posted by Navleen on June 21, 2015 | No Comments
He might be in the 44th year of his life, but Jimmy Sheirgill can still make young hearts beat with his looks and affable charm. Ever since his 1996 debut in Gulzar’s Maachis, Jimmy has straddled the worlds of Hindi and Punjabi films, making a mark with meaty, if not leading roles. Recently seen and loved as Raja Awasthi in the Hindi film Tanu Weds Manu Returns, the actor is a busy man with quite a few projects in his kitty. But, he stays a thorough gentleman as he returns our calls even while he is in Lucknow shooting for upcoming Hindi film Zainab, a socio-political drama. In a freewheeling conversation between shots, Jimmy talks about keeping his promise of churning one Punjabi film a year and of films that keep him excited.
Mid-life crisis, what’s that?
From the film projects that Jimmy is being seen in, one ought to believe that the term ‘mid-life crisis’ doesn’t exist for him. “I’ve only heard about crisis. I don’t know if it comes at the beginning, mid or towards the end,” he laughs.
The rise of the Punjabi film industry might have produced many a hero, but Jimmy has retained his position of being a bankable actor and producer. The fact that he has two promising films coming up – Baljit Singh Deo’s Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi and Navaniat Singh’s Shareek – proves that he is here to stay.
It’s been a decade since Jimmy first debuted in Punjabi film Yaaran Naal Baharan in 2005, at a time when Punjabi films weren’t trending. “I’m from Patiala, have studied in Nabha and spent a lot of time in Chandigarh. When Maan ji, (film director Manmohan Singh) with whom I had worked in Maachis and Mohabbatein, approached me to feature in film based on university life, I was quite happy. At the time, many people had speculated that I would give up and return to Hindi films, but I promised them that if the response to my films is good, I would do a Punjabi film every year. I have lived up to the promise. Apart from a year-and-a-half gap post Dharti, that too owing to my illness, I never gave up,” he says.
Calling the shots as a producer
When Jimmy turned a producer in the Punjabi film industry, he took bold strides that included bringing production giant Eros to Punjab. “I have produced four Punjabi films – Dharti, Taur Mitran Di, Saadi Love Story and Rangeelay – and feel that being a producer is a full-time job. You have to be always present on the sets and be in the know-how of what is going around. I realized later that I didn’t have that kind of time. So after the film Dharti came out, we had a three-film deal with Eros in which I am not starring in two of the films,” he says.
None of his films did well at the box office and it is a fact that Jimmy is not ashamed to admit. “Perhaps the decisions weren’t right or maybe the research wasn’t thorough. I was unwell and confined to the bed, so Rangeelay had to be shot a year-and-a-half later. By the time it was made, such stories became stale. Going for a different story might have been a better idea. Had Rangeelay been shot in 2011, it would have got better reviews,” feels the actor.
However, the actor is satisfied that he played his role of a producer to the hilt. “What do you do when the films that you have produced don’t do well? You just stop producing. Otherwise, I would be expected to devote all my time to this job. But if you watch Taur Mitran Di or Saadi Love Story, you will notice that I didn’t leave any stone unturned when it came to spending money. We shot in Ladakh, which was expensive for a Punjabi film. From selecting the best locales to bringing technicians and dancers from Mumbai or roping in acclaimed singer Kunal Ganjawala to sing the title track, only the best was done,” he says, adding that production houses continue to express a desire to work with him, though he isn’t in the frame of mind of working as a producer.
Whether his injury jinxed certain projects or his decisions backfired, Jimmy faced the odds head-on. Unruffled by the debacle of his films, he made a comeback and triumphed with his acts in Hindi films Special 26, Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster Returns and Bullet Raja. “I’m happy acting rather than taking on the stress of a producer,” he says.
This period also gave Jimmy the opportunity to introspect. “It gave me time to think afresh. I then decided that I would not do run-of-the-mill films. My upcoming films Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi and Shareek will stand out. Who thinks of making a film on family rivalries, something that is prevalent since the times of the Mahabharata? If some people are inspired to bury the hatchet and hug their brothers after watching Shareek, I will consider it a victory,” says the actor.
Since Jimmy seems convinced about the importance of a strong storyline, we ask him for his opinion on Punjabi films such as Qissa by Anup Kumar and Chauthi Koot by Gurvinder Singh, which make noise at international film festivals but don’t do big business back home. “For me, the biggest hit is Chaar Sahibzaade, which shattered all box office records of previous Punjabi films. Its story and the emotions portrayed stood out. One must remember that it didn’t open well; it was word of mouth publicity that helped matters,” he says. Jimmy says where films such as Quissa and Chauthi Koot are concerned, the directors know their target audience. “The films are made keeping film festivals and national awards in mind. These directors might come up with a commercial story tomorrow,” he adds.
This is the reason that Jimmy considers script to be the king. “For an actor, the most important entity is the script. If it is good, you proceed to study the character. At times, you may reject a lengthy role and go for something more exciting. I’m trying to do roles that I have not done before,” says the actor.
Films to watch out for
The mention of romantic thriller Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi (releasing on 10th July) and family drama Shareek (releasing on 22nd October) gets Jimmy talking excitedly. Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi features actors Surveen Chawla, Shivendra Mahal and Mukul Dev apart from himself. “It is a zone where Punjabi films haven’t ventured into. Baljit [Singh Deo] is known for his strong sense of visuals. Also, the story is based on true incidents which Baljit was witness to in his youth. We had been wanting to work together for a long time, finally this came across.”
The trailer of Hero, which was recently released, gives a glimpse into the large scale grandeur that Punjabi films are hardly seen in. Says Jimmy, “It wasn’t an easy film to make. A major chunk of it was shot in Canada. There was a scene that we had to shoot in downtown in 15 minutes. Then we had rush to shoot another sequence in a different costume. A lot of montages were used. It’s quite amazing how one manages all of it.”
As challenging as shooting for Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi was, Jimmy recalls shooting for Shareek to have been the most difficult.
“For me, Shareek has been quite a tough film. It is based on issues related to money and share of land amongst the sons in a family. We had two options when shooting for it – to show it dramatically or to show it from the point of view of a man who goes through the pain of division of property. I portray a character called Jassa who ages from 25 to 55 in the film. So, the entire journey of transition and preparing for it has been interesting. I was so excited about the plot that I sat idle for two months only so that I could grow a beard,” shares Jimmy.
Once a Punjabi, always a Punjabi
Jimmy happens to be amongst those very few Punjabi celebrities who have kept their love for Punjabiyat intact, despite living far away in Mumbai. “I give credit for my constant to and fro in Punjab to Punjabi films. Be it for shoots, events or promotions, there is always a reason to come here. But in Mumbai too, there are a lot of Punjabis now. On a given day, I find myself dubbing for, say, a Tigmanshu Dhulia film and then stopping over at Navaniat’s office where we switch to talking in Punjabi,” he smiles.
Apart from being a talented actor, Jimmy is also a loving father and husband, roles that he prefers amongst all others. “Priyanka [his wife] is a housewife who was earlier an interior designer, working with her father. She quit work to bring up our son Veer, a huge sacrifice. My son is 11 years old and quite into sports. He loves soccer. I will support him in whatever he does,” signs off the doting dad.