Post Veerendra's demise Guggu Gill and Yograj Singh emerged as the leading male actors of Punjabi Cinema. Filmmakers would prefer to see them act the way Pakistani actor Sultan Rahi did but another actor named Sukhjinder Shera had his own rustic acting style, which was neither method nor natural acting. But the rural audiences liked his style.
Born in a village near Jagraon, Sukhjinder Shera studied till high school only. He was always interested in writing and his passion for this art grew after his meeting with Jaswant Singh Kanwal, who inspired him to write short stories. These short stories made their way to Punjabi Magazines and newspapers, and soon, the man even penned a novel.
An agriculturist and a writer, Sukhjinder ran a workshop of diesel engine pumps. He is a father of two daughters and a son. Surprisingly, none of his other family members are in to film business.
Meeting With Veerendra
A Dharmendra fan, Shera aspired to enter the world of films. One of his neighbor's relatives happened to be the neighbor of Veerendra and had even promised him a meeting with the actor. Sukhjinder got the golden chance to meet Veerendra during the shoot of one of his films in Ludhiana. Recalling the memory, Sukhjinder shares, "We both gelled almost immediately and soon a film called Ucha Pind was planned. But it had to be put on hold after the unfortunate attack on Shri Darbar Sahib."
Yaari Jatt Di, Jatt Te Zameen and more..
Veerendra was abroad when he learned about the plight of Punjabi girls who get married outside India. He discussed the idea with Sukhjinder Shera and it shaped up into a film that was a big hit. Shera reveals, "I developed this subject further and the result was Yaari Jatt Di, a silver jubilee hit. I had also played an important part in the film. My character name in the film was Shera which became so popular that it became my identity and I added Shera to my name forever."
Jatt Te Zameen was also Sukhjinder's concept. Veerendra came on board as the actor and director, while Shera was one of the producers but initially, he was to play the lead role with Veerendra. Upon its release, the film Jatt Te Zameen turned out to be a big hit.
"Some theatres which had the capacity of only 1000 seats, had crowds of 1500 people in the hall. The film's dialogues are still talked about," remembers Sukhjinder.
First Turbaned Lead Hero
Much before Diljit became a turbaned actor star sensation, Sukhjinder Shera was that one lead actor who had tasted success with his turbaned avatar.
Shera recalls, "Veerendra was in dilemma over my turbaned look. In fact, some people were laughing on my back that how can a desi looking turbanned fellow like me become a hero. But the film's success proved everyone wrong."
But after a few years, Shera too followed the other route and abandoned his turbaned look. He explained, "I was doing a film in which a scene demanded my character to utter double meaning dialogues. I simply refused to do that scene and told the producer to remove such dialogues as they won't sound good on screen keeping my Sardar character in mind, using vulgar language. There were few more such situations, and ultimately I got told that if I wanted to work in films outside my productions, I will have to follow the trend. But after a while, I decided to get back to my real look."
Veerendra's Sudden Death
When Jatt Te Zameen neared completion, a shocking tragedy took place and the whole industry got shaken. Punjab was going through a turmoil and Veerendra became a victim of it. He was gunned down while shooting for Jatt Te Zameen.
Sukhjinder Shera remembers the legend fondly, "We were working as a team, but losing a friend like Veerendra was very more depressing. In fact, it was a big loss for the whole industry. We were planning some other projects too. I miss him."
Guggu Gill, Yograj Singh and Raj Babbar
Talking about Guggu Gill and Yograj, he says, "They are friends. Initially, Deep Dhillon and Gurcharan Pohli were to do Jatt Te Zameen but they were busy. I brought Guggu and Yograj for the film, who later worked in our next films too. I wanted to work with them again, but soon they had their own camps and teams to work with. I had no issues with it. I last worked with Guggu in a film called Rehmatan and about Raj Babbar, he is a gentleman to work with.
He teamed up with his Jatt Te Zameen co-stars Guggu Gill and Yograj Singh for his home production Jor Jatt Da, in which he played the lead role. Guggu was given the second lead and Yograj was in the negative role. Jor Jatt Da was a hit at the box office.
"After that, I decided to revive Ucha Pind and took Raj Babbar for the role which was to be done by Veerendra. It was an average hit at the box office," said Shera.
In between, he did some outside productions like Pagdi Sambhal Jatta, Dharam Jatt Da, etc. His other home production Sir Dhad Di Baazi was one of his last major successes in the period of the 90s.
Downfall And Revival Of Punjabi Cinema
Sukhjinder Shera was later seen in films like Jagira, Deh Shiva Var Mohe Ehe, Mirza Sahiban (a Hindi film), Na Kar Badnam Canada Nu, and more. But none of these films could do well at the box office.
"I was trying to make issue-based films while some of our makers were simply copying Pakistani films. Also, we had actors and directors coming from Bombay, who had no idea about the language, culture and ground reality of Punjab or its Cinema. Ultimately, the audience stopped coming for Punjabi films and everyone's movies suffered. It is thanks to Harbhajan Maan and Manmohan Singh that Punjabi Cinema was able to get back on its feet again."
Current Punjabi Cinema
"During our times a Punjabi film would get made in 8 to 18 lac. It would run for weeks and then we used to earn from the video rights. Today, a number of films are being made with budgets going too high, even in crores, and these films' lifetime business is of few lacs only. Among 40-50 films, only 8 to 10 films do well. Producers should study the market and keep an eye on the budget."
In the last five to six years, Sukhjinder directed three films, and even acted in four. "I made Jatt In Mood because I was told that ajjkal comedy films hee chaldian, but it flopped. My next, Jinda Sukha-The Mastermind, did good business overseas, but being based on a controversial subject, the film could not release in India," he shared.
Bitter Experience With Dev Kharoud
Talking about his bad experience with Dev Kharoud in his film Yaar Beli, Shera said, "It is up to the audience to decide whether the film is good or bad and the producer has paid the actor to act and promote his film. But instead Dev took the money and said it is a bad film. This is not a professional approach."
Absence From Punjabi Cinema
While we get to see Guggu Gill and Yograj Singh in every second film, we asked if it upsets Shera for not being offered big films. "No, there is nothing to be upset about. I am not only an actor, I have produced films, and am also a writer and director. So at times, these new directors hesitate to work with me. But even during my prime time, I would take up less work. If you notice, in Hindi Films, Manoj Kumar, Firoze Khan, and more were directing and acting in their own films and did very few outside productions. The same is the case with me. Had I been only an actor, maybe then I would have also taken more acting assignments."
"I have been thinking of Jatt Te Zameen sequel for quite some time. Hopefully, I will work on that soon. Besides that, there is another project too," he signs off.