Jagdeep Sidhu became a popular name in Punjabi cinema after the release of laugh riot Nikka Zaildar in 2016. Since then he's written films like Nikka Zaildar 2, Harjeeta, Guddiyan Patole and also directed Qismat starring Ammy Virk. This month his second film, Shadaa, starring Diljit Dosanjh and Neeru Bajwa is up for release. We speak to the director about making love stories in an industry that predominantly makes comedies, and his eventual shift to Bollywood next year.
With Shadaa you are bringing Diljit Dosanjh and Neeru Bajwa back onscreen after Sardaarji in 2015. How did you get them on board?
The idea of making a film on a 'shadaa' (a man who's having trouble finding a wife) character came from Diljit bhaji. Then I developed the idea and narrated it to him. Initially, I wasn't sure if the film would get made since Diljit was involved in couple of projects and a star like him would obviously choose the best project. But he approached me even before the release of Qismat. It was a big thing for me as he was trusting me before seeing my work.
But once the shoot started, things were very difficult. In all my previous films, I had a very comfortable relationship with actors. It was a more friendly vibe. But here the whole aura was full of stardom. After two-three days, I called my friends Ammy and Sargun (Mehta) and told them main toh phas gaya. Anurag (Singh) sir was also present on the set on the first day which put a lot of pressure on me. He didn't say anything, but in my head, I kept thinking that he was obviously judging my work.
Is Diljit a difficult person to direct?
Like I said, the initial few days were very difficult. Most of my work is with Ammy and with him, the entire vibe on the set was full of fun. But Diljit bhaji has done most films with Anurag sir who is a very serious person. He is very strict. Therefore, during Shadaa's initial days, Diljit also had a similar temperament. When we finished the film, Diljit told me that before working with him, he used to think that filmmaking is the most difficult work. But after looking at my style of working, he feels that anyone can make a film.
I was clear from the beginning that the film shouldn't look like Jatt & Juliet at all, though everyone wanted the same chemistry to appear onscreen.
Are you worried Shadaa will be compared with Jatt & Juliet?
I was clear from the beginning that the film shouldn't look like Jatt & Juliet at all, though everyone wanted the same chemistry to appear onscreen. When Shadaa's editor and Anurag sir saw the film, they were a little disappointed too as it looked different. After a few days of shoot, I told Diljit bhaji that we don't have to portray Fateh Singh of Jatt & Juliet. In a song or two, I've deliberately put Fateh's cute mannerisms but everywhere else it is different.
Qismat was an out-and-out love story. Was it a deliberate experiment to offer Punjabi audiences something other than slapstick comedies?
I narrated Qismat to a lot of people in Bollywood – Sushant Singh Rajput, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal, Kartik Aaryan, Shraddha Kapoor and to leading production houses – Yash Raj, Balaji, T-Series, Dharma. Everybody liked the script. But in Bollywood, a good script alone can't guarantee if the film will be made. You need a director, corporate involvement, dates of actors, etc. Somehow things were not working out. Finally, when the film was in Dharma, a friend of mine who worked there suggested that I make it in Punjabi. Then I narrated it to a couple of Punjabi directors for their inputs. They all said it is a Bollywood script and wouldn't work in Punjab. When I finally decided that I would direct it, I thought of shooting it with two climaxes – one where actress dies in the end and another with a happy ending – and decide on the edit table. But then I just went with my original ending.
What was the biggest compliment you got for Qismat?
Varun Dhawan was the first person I narrated Qismat to. Qismat released a week before Sui Dhaaga and it was going strong in the second week too, so Varun was inquisitive. He saw the trailer and songs and called one of my producer friends from Punjab. When Varun got to know that he was the first person to hear Qismat's script, he was completely shocked. He was ecstatic and congratulated me. It was a big thing for me.
What made you cast Ammy and Sargun in it?
I narrated the script to Ammy in London where we were holidaying and told him that I want to make it with new actors because love stories do well with new faces. We zeroed in on Tania, who eventually played second lead in Qismat but since she was in Canada and sending her auditions via phone, we weren't fully sure about going ahead. One day Sargun came to meet Ammy and we just shared the film with her. As soon as she heard the script, she wanted to do it.
Most movies in Punjab have first-time producers. And then we don't see them producing again. What is your take?
In Punjab, the definition of a producer is quite misunderstood. People think that someone who is producing a movie will also put money in it. Therefore, the producers here don't have the right experience and knowledge to invest in good projects and market them well. They don't understand the process of filmmaking. While doing Shadaa, I was relaxed because of its producers Anurag sir, Pawan Gill and Aman Gil. Pawan and Aman have worked in Bollywood and know how production should be done. But Punjabi producers lack that skill – something that makes them do amateurish work. Mostly a Punjabi director ends up working like a production guy, manager and coordinator.
Anurag Singh shot to fame in Punjab and is now directing Hindi films. Do you have Bollywood ambitions too?
I have been struggling in Bollywood for a long time now. I was earlier doing a Dharma film that Karan Malhotra was directing. It featured Hrithik Roshan and Sara Ali Khan. But it got shelved 10 days before the shoot was supposed to start. Then Remo D'Souza was directing a dance film with Salman Khan whose dialogues I had written. Then I did the dialogues of ABCD3 which got changed to Street Dancer.
I've announced a hardcore romantic Punjabi film Sufna with Ammy Virk and Tania. After this film, I will shift to Bollywood from 2020.
In Punjab, the definition of a producer is quite misunderstood. People think that someone who is producing a movie will also put money in it
You've also written Saand ki Aankh's dialogues and additional screenplay.
Tushar Hiranandani who was my co-writer in ABCD 3 narrated Saand Ki Aankh's story. This happened to be completely different from his previous out-and-out commercial work. When I narrated the dialogues to him, he was so happy that he gave me a cheque from his personal account even before the producers were on board. Even the film's producer Anurag Kashyap was very happy when he listened to the dialogues. It meant a lot to me as his films are always known for the dialogues.