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“Language is no barrier for me”

A leading name in the Punjabi film industry, Surveen Chawla is known for films like Dharti, Singh Vs Kaur and her most recent, Disco Singh. Having made her bold debut in Hindi films with Hate Story 2, the actress speaks to Sagorika Dasgupta about successes and her plans

Hate Story 2 and your Punjabi film Disco Singh have both done well at the box office. It’s a double triumph for you.

Yes, it is! I had never imagined that Hate Story 2 would be such a big hit. Thanks to the film, my Hindi film career has gotten off to a great start and has gone beyond my expectations. This is not a film most actresses would choose to debut with, and don’t get me wrong. It’s just that most debutante actresses prefer roles that require them to do glamorous song-and-dance routines and probably something like a sweet love story. This role was nothing like that. It wasn’t opposite an A-list star and the director was also not an established one. So the only high points of the film were the fact that it was being backed by a banner like T- Series and co-produced by Vikram Bhatt. I chose to do the film because my character had a lot of substance and the script was really good. The only thing in my control was that I could work really hard and give it my best. T-Series promoted the film as it should have been and it was packaged very well. It’s been a great start to the year for me.

Weren’t you apprehensive about the risqué content of Hate Story 2?

Yes, it’s natural to fear being typecast by the industry if you start with a film with such bold scenes. But I wanted to do something entirely different from the roles I had been doing. I had done my share of stereotypical roles in Punjab, where I played the hot girl romancing the hero and singing songs with him, in almost every film I did in Punjab. I didn’t find it challenging at all. Being bold is only a state of being and I knew it’s a character that I was playing.

The promos only showcased 20 per cent of what the film actually has and so it seemed like the film was all about revealing my body. But when the audience watched the film, they knew there was a lot more meat to my character. It was the transition of a gullible girl into a bold woman. I did the film because I was the protagonist and I had to carry the film on my shoulders. It’s very rare for a newcomer to play women-centric roles like this one. I mean, actresses like Vidya Balan, Kangana Ranaut and Kareena Kapoor have done hit women-oriented films like The Dirty Picture, Queen and Heroine, respectively, but they only bagged these roles after having many films in their career. I am lucky I got to play such a part and have no regrets.

Now that Hate Story 2 has become a hit, will you focus more on Hindi films?

Definitely! Almost every actor’s focus is Hindi films. Bollywood is an actor’s be all and end all. Perhaps one will start eying Hollywood after one has their fill of Hindi films. Punjabi films have undoubtedly given me a lot of recognition and the experience I acquired there was very valuable. It was because of my Punjabi films that people recognised me. In fact, it is thanks to my fans in Punjab and East Punjab that the collections of Hate Story 2 soared in those territories. If the timing is right and I get a good script in any language, I would do it; language is no barrier for me.

From television to Punjabi cinema to Hindi films… What’s the journey been like for you?

Television was a training ground but I grew bored of it. It was a very monotonous phase of my life. I was drawing this huge pay cheque but there was no satisfaction. I was doing shows but it was all quite mechanical and not at all creatively satisfying. I began doing South films soon after and those didn’t work at the box office. I was going through a very bad phase in my career. Despite perseverance, acting can really test your nerves. Those were terrible months and I even thought of giving up acting. I was hosting Comedy Circus, and one day, Jimmy Sheirgill visited the show as a judge and asked me if I was interested in doing Punjabi cinema. He was planning to get into film production and was looking for an actress to star opposite him in a Punjabi film. That’s how my first Punjabi film, which was also his first production, Dharti, happened. That set the ball rolling for me because the film was a huge hit and thereafter all the films that I did in Punjab became successful. It is due to this that I got Hindi roles. The milestones in my journey as an actor, from TV to films, have been marked with my personal growth as a human being too. Every film I did prepared me for a better role and that is what led me to ultimately do a film like Hate Story 2.

Actresses in Hindi films are doing meatier roles these days. What is it like for actresses in Punjabi cinema?

It’s a very bad situation as Punjabi films are largely hero-centric. When the trailer of Hate Story 2 released, my fans in Punjab were very upset and they bombarded my Facebook page with cuss words. They thought it was not right for me to do a bold film like this as they thought I was going to portray Punjab in a very poor light. I don’t blame them because Punjabis are a very emotional lot and conservative too. But I am happy that films like Punjab 1984 are being made and it’s doing well at cinemas too. We need more films like that, films that cerebral and meaningful.

How different are the two industries – Punjabi and Hindi?

Punjabi cinema is obviously smaller in its reach compared to Hindi cinema, because Punjabi films cater to a smaller territory and maybe overseas. The collections of Hate Story 2, from East Punjab, Punjab, Delhi and North India, accounted for Rs 70 -77 lakh in the first week. This is the kind of business a hit Punjabi film like Jatt & Juliet or a Disco Singh would make on the whole. Technically, though, the Punjabi film industry has grown by leaps and bounds. I had not watched a single Punjabi film before I did Dharti and I know that from Dharti till now, the industry has grown only richer, both in terms of visual appeal and box-office collections.

Punjabi films now look as slick as Hindi films do and they have also improved in terms of quality. I have watched the Punjabi industry evolve across the years. It is because of this evolution that more and more Hindi film corporate studios are willing to invest in Punjabi films.

What are the other films you are working on?

My next release is Ugly, which I had shot before Hate Story 2 but was delayed and will release on September 19. I can’t divulge details about my character in the film but I play a very crazy, psychotic character. It’s an ensemble cast and mine is a small role but it’s a dark, gritty thriller where like almost all Anurag Kashyap films, every character is important. The interesting thing is that Anurag didn’t give any of us a script. We would come on the sets every day and he would tell us what we had to do on that day. Besides that, I have shot for Parched, a film by Leena Yadav. It’s a film about three sexually oppressed women in modern-day Rajasthan. It’s been shot by the cinematographer of Titanic and is produced by Ajay Devgn’s company and another LA-based company. It will release in English and Hindi. I am also working on another Punjabi film.

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