Punjabi cinema has seen an incredible rise in recent years and the man who was at the forefront of that resurgence was singer turned actor Harbhajan Mann.
He laid the foundation for the regional film industry with a string of successful films and has been there during its rise to great heights. The music icon will be adding to his impressive achievements with this week’s big movie release Gadaar: The Traitor and showing off a different side to his talent with a character he has not played before.
Not surprisingly, Harbhajan was feeling quietly confident when Eastern Eye caught up with him to talk about Gadaar: The Traitor, his hopes for the future of Punjabi cinema, music and what keeps him grounded.
It seems like you took a break from acting despite being very successful at it. Is that correct?
My last film Haani came out in September 2013, but despite the gap between that film and Gadaar, I have not taken time out or much of a break from films. I’ve spent the past year and-a-half filming and doing intensive post-production work on Gadaar and other projects. Because I want my work to be presented a certain way, I have taken my time working on these projects to achieve the best outcome possible.
What attracted you to Gadaar: The Traitor?
The story, the characters and entire atmosphere around the script of Gadaar really attracted me to the project. The film is an entertaining and exciting piece of work, and what makes it special for me is that it is a complete 180 degrees from the characters and stories I have done before.
Tell us about the film and your role in it?
The film is about a character, Jai Singh, who gets caught up in the middle of a certain incident that has life-altering consequences. Jai has a cavalier, devil-may-care attitude, but when the problem he encounters presents itself, he has to be creative and prudent in figuring out how to come on top, despite the people and circumstances that stand against him.
What was the biggest challenge you had in portraying this character?
Jai is a very daring and impulsive individual. As you can see in the trailer of the film, there are scenes where he jumps off a boat and plays a game of Russian roulette. For me to get into the skin of this character and understand his psyche was an amusing and enjoyable challenge.
Is this the darkest role you have played so far?
Yes, this is definitely the darkest character I have played. Jai is a fun and unpredictable person, but he also has a dark past and it does, at certain points, catch up to him.
Which is your favourite moment in the movie?
Without making it sound too much like an easy answer, I would have to say that the climax of the film is definitely very thrilling and exciting. I genuinely enjoyed shooting it and later watching it in the post-production process.
Who is the movie aimed at?
I think it should appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. Since the beginning of my journey in films, I have tried my best to make movies that can be watched together by the entire family. Despite a change in genre, I can say for certain that Gadaar in a family film that will entertain and be enjoyed by audiences of all ages and from all different places.
Are you hoping this film expands the reach of Punjabi cinema?
Definitely. When it comes down to the corporatisation of films and experimenting with non-conventional story lines, I hope Gadaar can be a film that provides a foundation to achieve further success in Punjabi cinema. The team of Saga/Unysis has worked extremely hard on the marketing front and has provided a budget for the film to be shot in top-notch locations in Canada and in places in India such as Goa, Mumbai and various places around Punjab. Furthermore, the action sequences and stunts have been very tastefully crafted. Lastly, this film is a step towards creating a certain kind of cinema that can break precedents in storytelling and show audiences the versatility in filmmaking that exists in Punjabi cinema.
Which other film projects do you have on the way?
Another film I have in the works is tentatively titled CM Sahib. More details will be released about my movies in the next couple of months.
What is happening on the musical front for you?
I am excited to experiment with new producers and sounds this year. I had a great experience recently working with Tigerstyle on Husn-The Kali and Dr Zeus on the title track of Gadaar. I hope to work again with these talented producers, among several other artists in upcoming times.
You have achieved a lot, but what is your greatest unfulfilled musical ambition?
I am blessed to still be working after close to 25 years in the music industry. With each year there are new desires and ambitions to try different sounds and styles of music. I am open to and in discussions about working with many different producers from around the world, and I hope to present my fans with new music very soon.
Why do you love Punjabi cinema and what are your hopes for its future?
I love the Punjabi language, our culture and the ways and qualities of Punjabi people. Punjabi is a beautiful language, and the people are among the most vibrant, hard-working and genuine people around the world. Internally I am connected with being Punjabi, and as an artist I feel that it’s my responsibility to better Punjabi cinema. I hope for it to grow and compete in terms of production and storytelling with the best of film industries in the world. I want our culture and language to prosper further with the growth of Punjabi cinema.
What is your biggest motivating factor as a singer and an actor?
My love and passion towards my art is still as strong as it was when I was starting out as a young man, singing at small functions at ages 17-18. It’s hard to describe where the motivation comes from. I believe a large part may be from the love and support my fans give me, but I can genuinely say that I am excited to be able to do what I love each and every day.
What is the best and worst thing about being Harbhajan Mann?
The best would definitely be the love I get from my fans and all the blessings they bestow upon me, and the fact that I can entertain them and make them happy by performing songs and making films that I love to do. The worst would be the time that I have to spend away from my family because of tough work schedules and travelling.
You have remained very humble despite your massive success. What keeps you so grounded?
At the end of the day, I am no different from other people – I am just a man who does his job. I may be in the spotlight because of my profession, but I don’t see that as a reason for me to be arrogant or unappreciative towards anyone. I believe I am a loving person, and I like to show my regard and respect towards people without feeling that success should make me be any different.
How much do your fans mean to you?
My fans are my rock, and their support gives me the energy to keep moving forward and bettering myself. I am beyond thankful for all they have given me, and I hope to keep working hard and providing them with the best songs and films that I can.
Finally, why should we watch Gadaar: The Traitor?
This is a chance for everyone to see Harbhajan Mann as a character they would never imagine he would portray. It’s a chance to watch a Punjabi film that has challenged all the norms and standards of previous films, and tried to do something unique with its storytelling and production. All these elements have combined to make a compelling film, and I think this is a film that people will certainly enjoy watching.
Gadaar: The Traitor is in cinemas now.