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‘Punjabi cinema uninspiring, plays safe’

‘Punjabi cinema uninspiring, plays safe’

Gunjit Chopra

Nonika Singh

‘Kohraa’ has been described as a milestone for a multi-layered understanding of Punjab. Gunjit Chopra, its co-creator and co-writer, talks to Nonika Singh about his perceptions on what ails and distinguishes the state, especially its hinterland, which he has toured extensively. Excerpts:

Ever since ‘Kohraa’ was streamed, it’s being hailed as a ray of sunshine. How do you respond to such praise?

It’s overwhelming and also encouraging, especially when you are creating a different milieu, a different kind of Punjab and you are motivated to create more of such content.

Drugs, homosexuality, NRI angle, complexity of human relationships… did you at any point feel you were biting into more than one can chew?

We were not trying to be the flag-bearers of these issues. We ourselves were trying to look through the fog. We should be true to our stories, which should have the DNA of the state we are talking about. Issues should be hidden in the story. ‘Out there’ things don’t work in the world of entertainment.

What exactly was the trigger for ‘Kohraa’?

When I travelled, I realised how we are so different from the way we are being perceived. There is no dhol batashe, there is no giddha happening. Punjab has its own issues and its own beauty which lies beyond the mustard fields. We have not tapped into its history, culture and literature. Punjab is under and misrepresented. It is because people in Bollywood were not coming from Punjab. They were Punjabis alright, but came from west Punjab.

What do you think ails Punjab today?

The problem goes back to Partition; everything is connected, it’s like an arithmetic progression. Right now, it’s becoming impossible to make people stay in Punjab. First we need to accept it as home.

How do you look at immigration, which is likely to be the subject of your future project?

Immigrants’ life is complex and often they get lost in the duality of where they belong. Why are Punjabis so fascinated by the idea of moving abroad when they know there are not enough opportunities? We have forgotten the prejudices we faced there. I hope immigration will phase out.

Now that Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Chamkila’ is out, will you still go ahead with your documentary on the singer?

Yes, that is my passion project. A documentary is a difficult thing, it calls for so much research.

Why are artists so fascinated by Chamkila?

One is the times of Chamkila. Whether you like his songs or not, he talked a lot about the times he lived in. Maybe artists see themselves in him. Be it helpless artists who are not allowed to say what they want, or artists who can tell the truth, or those bound by the politics of the country, all feel connected to him.

What is your take on Punjabi cinema?

It’s not inspiring, to say the least. We are playing too safe. Should this kind of cinema exist? Yes, but it should not be the only kind. Punjab must look beyond the obvious. There has to be a new branch of arts and aesthetics. Punjab is such a fascinating state. We are born entrepreneurs. Rural Punjab has seen the world. But if we are the first ones to fight on the border, we are also the first to try a new drug. It’s tragic that Punjab is on a drug route.

To be associated with two path-breaking shows, ‘Paatal Lok’ and ‘Kohraa’, does it put pressure?

The moment you start taking the burden, it plays on your mind. You do get influenced by all the attention. But the beauty lies in forgetting and getting back to the drawing board.

Your association with Sudip Sharma goes back to ‘Paatal Lok’. What are the lessons you learnt from the acclaimed maker?

You need ethical people you can follow beyond imbibing the art and craft. One should have good mentors. What I have learnt from him is how to be secure in your own thing.

What is your message to Punjabis?

Appreciate and support all kinds of arts. Punjab has so much undiscovered talent. We should not ape others, but make our own cinema about our own people.

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