The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From bhangra brigade, a warm ‘welcome’

Calcutta-based Punjabis have one more reason to break into bhangra. With an eye on the “huge Punjabi population” in Calcutta, Jee Aayan Nu, starring singer Harbhajan Mann and Priya Gill, will be released at Ujjala on Friday. After its “overwhelming success” in Punjab and overseas, Columbia Tristar, which has ventured into regional cinema only once before with the Bengali film Sanjhbatir Roopkathara, has picked up the film for release in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta.

Mann arrived in the city on Thursday to attend Friday’s premiere at Ujjala, chosen for its proximity to Bhowanipore, home to a sizeable Punjabi population. “This is the first Punjabi film of its kind,” smiles the singer-turned-actor. “The first half is shot mainly in North India, while the action in the second is based in Vancouver,” adds Mann, for whom this is the first foray on big screen, having only stepped before the camera for his music videos. With an extensive international shooting schedule, the budget went up to an unprecedented Rs 5 crore. “No one is usually willing to put up that kind of money for Punjabi cinema.”

The marketing machine for the movie (directed by Manmohan Singh) had its guns trained on the overseas markets. Punjabi, says the first-time visitor to Calcutta, is one of the most spoken languages in England, including Punjabi-speaking Pakistanis. Jee Aayan Nu, which means ‘welcome’, had released on November 8 in Canada, the US, Australia and Europe, and is still running in some halls in Punjab. “In Canada, it has even crossed Devdas’ collections,” explains Mann, now living in Chandigarh after a 13-year stint in Vancouver.

Mann had some talking to do before T-Series, the house he has been working with for many of his albums, agreed to produce the film. “Now, after the success of Jee Aayan Nu, there are quite a few producers willing to invest in such projects,” he adds. The performance of the venture, as well as the tie-up with a major studio, has been “a major boost” to an industry that has lost most of its talent to Bollywood. The director-actor duo has another project scheduled to start rolling by July, this time in the US.

For Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), of which Columbia is a part, regional activity is a good way of testing local markets. “It provides a platform for interaction with consumers at a local level and leveraging our distribution set-up,” says Ipsita Johri, head, marketing and public relations, eastern region, SPE.

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