Watching The film Lagaan (2001) on the big screen made Sukhpreet S Gill look at cinema with new eyes. A doctor by education and profession, Ludhiana-based Gill became a ‘student’ of cinema, as he began to explore its many dimensions, evolution and impact on audiences. It was in understanding the storytelling techniques of well-known filmmakers such as Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand, V Shantaram,
MS Sathyu, watching their movies, and knowing the importance of screenplay writing that Gill began writing rough short stories and then feature film scripts with Hindi and Punjabi dialogues.
In 2015, 33-year-old Gill got the chance to write and assist for Punjabi filmmaker Rajeev Kumar (Nabar, Chamm) and learnt production and post-production work. “I knew this was my calling and there was nothing more that I wanted to do — tell stories of my people and society,” says Gill. His debut Punjabi film, Meechak Smaaroh, will open at the SriGanganagar Film Festival, Rajasthan, this month, followed by a screening in Chandigarh in January end and a theatre release.
Gill says most of the cast and crew are launching their careers with this film, including the main protagonist Surender, who comes from a strong theatre background. The idea, he adds, was to make a film that would resonate with the common people. He wasn’t keen on a rom-com, which most Punjabi films end up being. “We are far behind in our cinema for we have not given our audiences quality cinema, which is real, close to life and will tell stories of our times. I wanted to explore and experiment and it was a huge challenge, since there isn’t much support. I am hoping for a new wave cinema movement in Punjab, as it started in the Hindi film industry with Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome. Filmmakers such as Gurvinder Singh, Rajeev Kumar and a few others have already started it in Punjab, but we have a long way to go,” says Gill.
Meechak Smaaroh has been made under a budget of Rs 25 lakh. Gill describes it as an experimental, educational film, which explores the
wrong turns of Punjab’s youth, the genius of a bipolar mind, and the tragedy of an old man. In the backdrop of the film is the pre-post wedding shoots popular in Punjab.
The story is of Sansar Nath, a village photographer and short-story writer, who migrated to Punjab from Himachal more than two decades ago. He is trying to cope with the changing times, his daily dose of medicines for his bipolar disorder and the latest pre-wedding shoot. “Things take a new turn for Sansar, when Rimal Preet requests him for simple marriage photography. A calm, peaceful nursery is the location for Preet’s shoot and suddenly footsteps with an evil face emerge in few photographs taken by Sansar and his assistant. A stalker with no name challenges the mindset of Sansar,” says Gill.
Migration issues of workers from Bihar, UP, and Himachal, their struggles in a new place, how they cope in a new city, their mind-sets, how they are viewed also make it to the film. Gill explores the evils of drugs, violence among the youth of Punjab, the culture of overspending, and lavish weddings too.
“Ludhiana is full of urban immigrants. I have observed them closely for the film. I talked to various photographers, who moved to the city to understand how they feel, the changing culture in Punjab, the thoughts of people in Punjab. The film has been deliberately shot in the heat of June to show the hardships of poor immigrants to the state. We used two different cameras to effect the required glitches depicting the mind on medication. I wanted to make a film which should talk about the youth, and am happy I have been able to follow my dream,” says Gill.