After your National Award-winning movie, Punjab 1984 (2014), what made you revisit the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in your latest Netflix release, Jogi?
The story of Punjab 1984 is different from Jogi’s. Punjab 1984 is based in Punjab while the story of Jogi unfolds in Delhi, three months after that incident (Operation Blue Star). This story was not told earlier. It’s definitely the subject that made me say yes to the movie immediately after Ali sir (director and co-producer Ali Abbas Zafar) approached me. Iss mudde pe film banana aapne aap mein hi ek badi baat thi (Making a film on this subject is in itself a big deal). However, what you refer to as riots, is actually genocide. Riots take place when it’s a clash between two groups. In this case, a particular community was targeted.
Do you believe that we should look at violent episodes in Indian history like this with a fresh perspective?
Most of you are more educated than me and have researched this incident. So, I can’t suggest anything. But it is crucial for me to talk about the genocide of 1984. Whenever I get an opportunity to express something relevant through my songs and films, I do that. It is up to others, how they wish to look at these incidents.
Has the Sikh community healed from this violent episode?
No, I don’t think the Sikh community has managed to forget this incident. While growing up, whenever I was asked my birth date, I would say January 6, 1984. People often responded a bit strangely. The 1984-borns like me wondered what’s so unusual about that year. Gradually, I came to know about the violence the community faced and grew up listening to accounts of that. It’s in our collective subconscious.
Though set in the backdrop of violence, Jogi tries to infuse positivity and talks about friendship.
You will find different types of people even in disturbing situations such as this. So, it was important to talk about those people (helpful and selfless), too. Through them, we were talking about what happened. When you tell a story, obviously, there are other characters, too. But in this case, the subject was important to me. I was also interested because it was going to be released on a larger platform and will reach audiences across the world.
In December 2020, you joined the farmers protests at the Singhu border. Should artistes speak up in society?
I don’t know about that, I can’t speak on behalf of all artistes. That won’t be fair. I can only speak for myself and share what I believe in. I know nothing about politics. But I am always with Punjab and its people. I was born there. Mein ussi mitti ka bana hoon. Hamesha mein insaniyat ke saath hoon (I am a son of the soil. I will always side with humanity). Politics is beyond my understanding. So, I don’t think I can make political comments. There are many others who are much more qualified to do so.
How do you approach your roles?
Once I like the story, I follow the director. There are basic preparations that every actor has to go through for a role. It involves working on the character’s look, costumes, and dialogues. These are mandatory. For instance, while playing the character of a hockey player in Soorma (2018), I had to learn the sport.
How do you find time to pursue two demanding careers — music and acting?
Time nikal hi aata hai (Somehow, I manage to find the time). I don’t have any fixed schedule, it’s quite organic. Movies require a big team and the director’s vision. Working on sound and music is easier for me. Creating music is much more personal. I get as much happiness in creating good music as I do when my films become hits.
You have not worked in many Hindi films after Udta Punjab (2016). Are you picky?
Every year, I act in a Punjabi film. My journey as an actor started with Punjabi films. So, I don’t want to break that connection. After my music and stage shows, I select a project from the offers I receive to work on a Hindi film.
In an earlier interview with us, you had said when you make music that you love, the albums would have more soothing and devotional numbers. Have you been able to do that?
I make a devotional song every year. However, anything I mentioned before 2020 is not relevant anymore. I am a changed person now. I now do whatever gives me joy. Sound is very pure. So, I create whatever I feel like. We are creating music that people haven’t heard from me before and we will share it soon.
Are these post-2020 changes in you induced by the pandemic?
(Laughs) These changes are personal and I won’t be able to answer this question.
Apart from the music, what else are you working on?
My new Punjabi film, Babe Bhangra Paunde Ne, is releasing on October 5. I am also acting in Imtiaz Ali’s next film (reportedly based on the life of late singer Amar Singh Chamkila), while another film directed by Honey Trehan, produced by RSVP, is ready.
Your social-media posts appear unpretentious. Do you handle it yourself?
I don’t have a media team which will manage my posts. Hum khud hi apna image bigad dete hain, khud hi sudhar dete hain (I only spoil my image and I only fix it).
From your posts, it comes across that you love to spend time in the kitchen.
I manage to find time for cooking. Cooking is like being in my personal space and I enjoy doing it. If there is extra food, I feed others too.