Veteran actor Om Puri, who was in city to receive the ‘Pride of Punjab Award 2014’ at a university here, exclusively spoke to Hindustan Times about the current state of the Punjabi film industry and how theatre gave a voice to his feelings, during his college days.
Congratulations on being honoured with an award which epitomises your rich contribution to Punjabi cinema. The industry that had languished for years is slowly coming of age.
Thank you. Yes, Punjabi films have come a long way. ‘Chann Pardesi’ (1981) was the turning point as it was a big commercial success all over Punjab. The middle-class stepped out to watch a Punjabi film in theatres and that speaks volumes about its success. Besides, it received the National Award.
How do you see the present state of Punjabi cinema?
To put it bluntly, only 20% of the films are meaningful. I grew up washing tea glasses on the roadside, so cinema was a passion for me. We must understand that besides providing entertainment to our audiences, it is a social responsibility as well.
Of late, there have been films like Punjab 1984, and Eh Janam Tere Lekhe. Do you still think new-age filmmakers focus only on entertainment?
That’s exactly why I said cinema in Punjab had come a long way. However, we must improve our humour. If we have the capacity to refine the quality of the jokes we laugh on, why not do that. There is still a vast scope for improvisation. The lyrics of Punjabi songs are also titillating and crass.
But, Punjabi songs are a rage nowadays with every second Hindi film having a Punjabi song.
You are right. But, we must learn from the era of 1950s and 1960s and from legends like Bimal Roy, Sahir Ludhianvi and the likes. Songs were a part of the theme of the film. So, we should focus on the same instead of imposing or forcibly adding a song here and there with vulgar lyrics. I wonder why Punjabi cinema hasn’t touched upon rich Sufi music at all. That is also folklore.
What else can help revive audiences’ interest in regional cinema? Your first film was in Kannada, though you are a Punjabi.
I worked on a Kannada film. Kannada and Marathi cinema are doing well, but the problem with regional cinema is that the medium itself is expensive while the target audience is smaller. We should get used to dubbed films and carry sub-titles like in the West to acquaint more and more people with regional cinema. This would encourage more people to watch these films and help generate more profits to produce better quality work.
You recently said you wanted to get back to theatre, a medium you started with. Why?
I was a timid boy back in college. But I had immense feelings, so theatre gave a voice to those feelings and I can never forget that. It helped me share my opinion about socially relevant topics. I like to stay connected with the medium and keep doing plays irrespective of the films I am working on. But I still prefer cinema as you reach out to a larger audience.
Punjabi theatre is still in its infancy. What can be done to change that?
I think producing more satirical as well as humour-based plays will help people here take theatre a little more seriously. Even meaningful thrillers can help elevate the status of Punjabi theatre.
What should Om Puri’s fans watch out for this year?
There is a film in which I am playing Bal Gangadhar Tilak. I am going through a Punjabis scripts for which I’ll be visiting Chandigarh again this month. There is Dharmendra’s ‘Ghayal Once Again’ which will release in November. firstname.lastname@example.org