Punjabi actors
Diljit Dosanjh, Jassie Gill, Isha Rikhi and Gippy Grewal

Deepali Singh (DNA; August 4, 2018)

Diljit Dosanjh was a household name in Punjab because of his films and singing career there, but Bollywood woke up to his talent only two years ago when he made his entry into Hindi films with Udta Punjab. The actor shone as a policeman caught in the world of drugs. This year’s Soorma proved, yet again, that the Punjab film industry export is not willing to settle for lesser roles and is here to stay.

The Punjabi superstar’s successful entry in Hindi movies has certainly been an encouraging factor for more actors from Pollywood — as their film industry is commonly known as — to look towards making their mark in Bollywood as well. Coupled with it, is the fact that Punjabi films have been doing extremely well in the last couple of years and have come under the radar of Hindi filmmakers who are scouting for new talent there.

While Jassie Gill will be seen opposite Sonakshi Sinha in Happy Phhir Bhaag Jayegi, Isha Rikhi was the female lead in Remo D’souza’s recent production, Nawabzaade. This April, Punjabi TV actor Sahil Vedoliyaa was also seen in the Varun Dhawan-starrer October. Punjabi superstar Gippy Grewal, too, acted in Lucknow Central (2017), although the film itself did not fare well at the box office.

Getting Noticed
Jassie, who made his acting debut in Punjabi films with Mr & Mrs 420 in 2014 and followed it up with movies such as Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, Mundeyan Ton Bachke Rahin and Oh Yaara Ainvayi Ainvayi Lut Gaya, was pleasantly surprised when he got a call from director Mudassar Aziz’s office. “Mudassar sir had seen a music video of mine called Nakhre and he liked what he saw. When he called me, I had no clue which film or what role he was planning to offer me. I had not seen Happy Bhaag Jayegi till then, but knew that it was a good film and had received a lot of appreciation. So when I was told I have been chosen for the sequel of the movie and that too opposite my favourite actress Sonakshi Sinha, I thought, ‘Yeh toh kamaal ho gaya’!

Bollywood wasn’t on the horizon for Isha as well, but things fell into place and she found herself playing the female lead in Nawabzaade. The actress, who has done films like Jatt Boys Putt Jattan De, Happy Go Lucky and What The Jatt, is happy that she is getting to explore another film industry apart from Pollywood. She says, “The Punjabi film industry has grown tremendously over the past few years and we are being looked upon as good actors.” "There are a lot of Bollywood actors, too, who are doing well here. It’s great to get such opportunities,” says Isha, adding that she’s getting to learn with each passing day. Ask her if Punjabi films will take a backseat if her Bollywood career takes off, and she says, “I’m looking for performance-oriented roles in good movies. It doesn’t matter what the language is.”

Bollywood On The Lookout
When director Jayesh Pradhan was looking to cast a fresh face for his directorial debut, Nawabzaade, he auditioned a number of girls from Mumbai. Finally, he found his female lead in Isha. “Instead of saying that Punjabi actors are looking towards Bollywood, I’d like to think it’s the other way around. It’s not just their good looks but also their acting talent and dedication that’s making them such clear favourites. As for Isha, I knew the instant I met her that she is right for the film,” he says.

The emphasis on realism and authenticity in Hindi cinema these days and filmmakers looking to cast actors who would do justice to their roles, is another reason, Jassi feels Bollywood is looking towards Punjabi actors. Citing the example of Diljit, Jassie says the actor lent an authenticity to the characters he portrayed in both Udta Punjab and Soorma. “When we used to watch movies during our college days, my friends and I would lament the caricaturish ways Punjabis were shown. Even the sardars’ turbans would not be shown tied in the proper manner or the language would not sound authentic. So, if the character is originally from the region, the audience connects with them more,” he explains. Since a lot of business comes from the North, Jassi feels it’s natural to look for actors from the regional film industries based there.

Massive Fanbase
If one takes a look at the social media accounts of actors from Pollywood, one would be able to get an idea of the massive fanbase that they enjoy. And it is these fans who come to the theatres in large numbers with their families and spread the word when their favourite Punjabi actors star in Bollywood films. Isha, who was recently in Chandigarh for the promotions of Nawabzaade, was overwhelmed with the response she received from her fans there.

“They were really encouraging and told me ‘Madam, assi te film zaroor vekhni hai’ (we will definitely watch the film)’,” she says, adding that Punjabi fans tend to be really loving towards their stars, and are always rooting for them to explore good opportunities. Although there will be many Punjabi film fans who must have watched the film for Isha, director Jayesh insists roping in the actress’ fanbase wasn’t his intention when he cast her, although it clearly is a plus. “I wasn’t looking at that angle. I just thought Isha suited the character of my movie and went with that intention,” he says.