Punjabi star Ammy Virk’s latest film Sher Bagga was set to release in theatres on June 10. But the untimely death of singer-rapper Sidhu Moose Wala on May 29 forced them to postpone it. In a statement, Ammy said the team was ‘not in the state of mind’ for it. The film is now releasing on June 24 but Ammy initially wanted to push it back even further. However, compulsions stopped him. In a chat with Hindustan Times, the actor, his co-star Sonam Bajwa, and writer director Jagdeep Sidhu spoke about the film and the state of Punjabi film industry. Also read: Post Sidhu Moose Wala’s death, Ammy Virk postpones Sher Bagga release: ‘We are not in state of mind’
The delay of the film has played on Ammy’s mind. When you mention that the mood is not celebratory in the Punjabi entertainment fraternity, he replies, “Even if we want, can’t do anything. Majboori hai (It’s a compulsion). We have to do that. We don’t have any dates available. Every week from now on, there are two Punjabi films and one Hindi film. From now till mid of October, it’s a packed schedule. After that, in the winters, our overseas business slumps because it snows in North America, which is a big market for us. 50% of our business is from overseas and that affects us. Then, we had released the trailer already. Had that not happened, we wouldn’t have released the film.”
But Ammy is thankful how the Punjabi film industry came together to help each other at such time. He shares, “But we requested other makers, who were releasing on June 24 to postpone theirs by a week. Then someone else postponed theirs to accommodate them. Everyone was very cooperative.”
Sher Bagga is an unusual story for Punjabi cinema, which has thrived on simple family entertainers. It is the story of an unwanted pregnancy and how the ‘couple’ brings up a child together despite not being married. Talking about the boldness of the subject, director Jagdeep Sidhu says, “If you go further back to about 25-30 years ago, films were made on these daring subjects. Suddenly, there came a time when everything became taboo, be it religion or personal relationships. Everyone was scared to not talk about or show stuff. In Punjabi cinema, heroes would be scared to hold heroine’s hand. But now people are becoming open-minded again.”
Ammy Virk agrees that in such a tricky subject, it is difficult to keep the comedy clean and family-oriented. But he relied on being natural. “My first thought is not to do anything extra. I want to keep it normal, like a Punjabi boy-next-door. It should be natural. The amount of comedy that happens in a Punjabi family, an Indian family doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. You get together with family and laugh. And what you say there does not have any double meaning. It is all positive comedy. That is what we have kept here too,” he says.
Sher Bagga sees Sonam Bajwa in a challenging role and the actor is thankful for that. She says, “Punjabi cinema has seen all kinds of films. And there have been films where the female actor did not have much to do. And yes, a lot of our stories are based in villages and middle-class families, and there in an ordinary household, how much glamour can you show. But I think even that is so beautiful. When people watch Punjabi films, they get to see that old world charm. But yes, there were times when despite that, female actors did not have much to do in terms of performance. Now, times have changed. There are subjects that are so strong today.”
Over the last year, film industries from the south have scored big at the box office with the likes of RRR, KGF: Chapter 2, Pushpa: The Rise, and Vikram minting money in the Hindi belt too. Ammy believes it’s about time Punjabi films will do it too. He says, “In south, you see larger-than-life fiction stories. If you look at the biggest films, they are not very grounded. Now, if we make historicals here in Punjab, then why not. You know how rich our history is. We can make a 300-type film on Hari Singh Nalwa, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, our original heroes. We are nearing ₹100 crore now, once that happens producers will also come. In Punjabi cinema, we make family entertainers. We don’t make films just for youngsters. You can see how KGF: Chapter 2 earned ₹6 crore in East Punjab on day one. That means there is a market in Punjab for such films.”
This cross-language success has enabled actors to work in various industries as well. Ammy made his Bollywood debut with 83 while Sonam has worked in Tamil cinema. However, she reveals that she has had to let go of several lucrative Bollywood projects too. She recalls, “Sometimes it happened that I wasn’t sure about some particular film. Sometimes, I didn’t have time. Something or the other did happen. I missed out on a few films that did really well eventually. But when you look back now, you feel ‘it happened for a reason’. It’s ok.”