From being an assistant director to noted Bollywood filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ram Gopal Varma, to writing screenplays and directing films in his own language (Punjabi), Rohit Jugraj Chauhan has grown leaps and bounds. The Sardaarji director enthralled the audience with his second Punjabi film, and is back yet again to entertain the audience with Diljit Dosanjh starrer Sardaarji 2.
In an exclusive conversation with IndianExpress.com, Rohit shares his journey from Bollywood to Punjabi cinema, talks about his lead actor Diljit Dosanjh and future plans.
Q: You started your career in Bollywood as an assistant director and worked with the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ram Gopal Varma. So what made you drift from Bollywood towards regional cinema?
Rohit: It was as simple as this that I wasn’t getting to say my stories here in Bollywood. It’s not that I’d say that I had a lot of work and left that to step into Punjabi film industry (Laughs). They were just not letting me say my stories my way and I had found my roots back to my culture, my language and they let me say it my way. I wandered back to my “pind”.
Ques: Would you limit yourself to Punjabi cinema or would you also explore other regional cinemas?
Rohit: Fortunately our film’s rights have been taken up in the South as well. Few of them are also waiting for Sardaarji 2, for both Tamil and Telugu. Having said that I will always say, that Punjabi cinema will always stay close to my heart. Even after I start making Bollywood films, let’s say that Punjabi cinema is something I would keep doing. What I have learnt from Punjabi cinema is that it is about story telling. The language doesn’t really matter. So, whether I do a Hindi film, a Tamil or a Telugu movie, I will do it with the same fervor and same zest.
Ques: Diljit is one of the biggest stars in Punjabi film industry, and now he is stepping into Bollywood with films like Udta Punjab and Phillauri. What do you have to say about him?
Rohit: He has a long way to go and he will go miles. I truly know his potential. Even in our films we have explored barely the tip of the iceberg of his potential. He is one of the most talented actors in this industry.
Ques: He has always impressed his fans and viewers with his enthusiasm and zeal on screen. Is he like that in real life as well?
Rohit: Yes, he is absolutely like that. He is very down to earth, which is one really good thing about him.
Ques: Sardaarji is one of the highest grossing Punjabi movies till date. How does that make you feel?
Rohit: It feels really nice. It makes me better at night, as I can sleep peacefully. It feels that I can say stories that the audience will love. There is no better feeling, no better high than that.
Ques: How is Sardaarji 2 different from the first part?
Rohit: Chalk and cheese. I’m quite excited to see how the audience will react to this film. It’s a mix of genres. This is something that has not even been tried even in Bollywood. I am so excited. Either my confidence and myself will grow by leaps and bounds or I will have to sit back and think for six months. There is everything, gangs chasing him, more than one Diljit, and there is the emotional set up – where it begins, it talks about the farmer of Punjab. The story has a huge arch and I am curious to see how the audience reacts to it. So it’s very different from Sardaarji one in the sense that the first part was a lot of fantasy and we added some satire into it. That was a genre which is very less explored.
Ques: You took a big risk by introducing this genre in Punjabi cinema with Sardaarji. Didn’t you have any apprehensions about it?
Rohit: You should ask my team (laughs). They are like Rohit don’t do it. For me, the kick is the challenge. So, I was like everyone plays safe, but if I am doing Punjabi movies and if I am doing something in a language that is my own, then let us see till when we can stretch. So yes, it is scary, but that is also the high. After Sardaarji, we are slightly more known here and people talk and say ‘Okay, you did this much at the box office’. But the point it it is not about the box office , I wish they watch the film and say, that yes this subject hasn’t even been touched in Hindi. Hopefully, with Sardaarji 2, they will be able to say that.
Ques: Any Bollywood actor you are keen on working with in the future?
Rohit: Diljit Dosanjh. Now to me he is a Bollywood actor as well.
Ques: How did Diljit come to your mind for the role in Sardaarji?
Rohit: When the subject of Sardaarji came, there was frankly only one guy in the entire industry who could pull this off and that was Diljit. When you think of Sardaarji, and a character with so many shades, he is the only guy. So the choice was really clear.