Village boy travels to big city to study medicine but turns movie star. Sounds just like a filmy plot, doesn’t it? But this is no silver screen story; it is the true tale of Aman Dhaliwal, one of Punjabi cinema’s most promising young heroes!
After appearing in a handful of Hindi and Telugu features, Aman made his Pollywood debut with VIRSA in 2010, a youth oriented story which proved popular and was even a featured selection at the Dallas Film Festival in Dallas, Texas in 2011.
Aman’s work in VIRSA was well received and soon more Punjabi film work followed with starring roles in the hit IK KUDI PUNJAB DI and the hilarious AJJ DE RANJHE, both of which featured excellent exposure for the versatile actor who has shown that he is not just hero material, but takes on comedy and negative roles as well.
Aman’s latest Punjabi picture, JATT BOYS – PUTT JATTAN DE will have him in another lead role and it would appear that his star is now shining bright!! No question about it, we will be seeing a lot more of Aman Dhaliwal in the future…so, let’s find out more about this actor. Aman was nice enough to take time out from promotional appearances for JATT BOYS to answer a few questions about his career and how he ended up in the entertainment business.
Mike Barnum : Working on the film VIRSA took you to Australia for filming. How was the experience?
Aman Dhaliwal: Punjabis in Australia are very supportive. At that time, Gurdas Maan had a stage performance there and he introduced me in his show as an actor of [the film] JODHAA AKBAR. So, Gurdas Maan saab promoted me during the shooting of VIRSA, which was very nice. Through this, many families invited me for dinners and functions while shooting in Sydney. Media was also very supportive.
MB: Was this your first time visiting Australia?
AD: Yes. I visited Australia only this once, for the shooting of VIRSA. Maybe very soon I will be shooting another movie in Australia, if the project is finalized.
MB: Your co-star in VIRSA was Arya Babbar, whose father Raj Babbar made several hit Punjabi films in the 1980s and 90s.
AD: I am definitely a fan of Raj Babbar, as my favorite movie is his film SHAHEED UDDHAM SINGH (2000), so of course I enjoyed working with Arya.
MB: Your latest Punjabi film AJJ DE RANJHE is a wonderful comedy, and it is the film that really made me take notice of you. It is also a very socially aware film, covering everything from drug and alcohol abuse to police corruption, and how honest police officers try to overcome a negative stigma.
AD: Manmohan Singh introduced me as lead in this movie and connected me up with the Punjab police department. Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab Sukhvir Singh Badal came to see the premier of our movie as it was the first Punjabi movie to also be releasing in Pakistan at the same time. After watching the movie Deputy Chief Minister Badal ordered the police to do improvements in police-public relationship by taking me around as a sort of ambassador. So this was another first for Punjabi cinema, wherein this film gave new ideas and direction toward improving relationships between the public and the police.
MB: Not only did you do this social work with the police, your assistance in helping others has continued.
AD: AJJ DE RANJHE connected me to do social activities to help “Aam Admi” (the common man), which is why I decided to shift from Mumbai to the town of Mansa (my home town). This is where I can best help people, as here my dad is socially and politically very active. Every day we get 5-6 applications of cancer patients in our area, so dad refers them for financial support, etc. I am B.S.C Honors in Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and an MBA in Hospital Management and my goal is to very soon make a free hospital for diagnosis of cancer.
MB: AJJ DE RANJHE had several comedians in the cast, including the wonderful Ghurpreet Guggi and Rana Ranbir –plus, you also had veteran actors like Deep Dhillon in the film.
AD: It was fun while working with Ghurpreet-ji & Rana Ranbir. We had a lot of fun, even during the time I was suffering with high fever while shooting! Deep-ji has a stong voice and is very positive by nature. He has a strong body, and he scared us when he was hitting our old gypsy character as part of the stunts in the movie. Those were real stunts! He and his wife encouraged me a lot.
MB: Was AJJ DE RANJHE well received?
AD: We think it found success, because our film has participated in improving the police system. After the film released I got calls from the Inspector General, the Deputy Inspector General, and Senior Superintendents of Police and they showed our movie to police employees. The film was highly appreciated in Pakistan (which is a first), Canada, and Australia, as well. So yes, film was a hit.
MB: You have another Punjabi film, JATT BOYS – PUTT JATTAN DE which just had a successful release. What can you tell me about your role in the film?
AD: In this one I play a boy named Waris Brar who is from a village and is studying in a city college. The story is how he maintains his values when he goes back to his village. Sippy Gill has a negative shade as a character who doesn’t allow anyone to comment on the heroine, but the heroine falls in love with Waris (me).
MB: Also in the cast are two of my favorite performers, Om Puri and Rahul Dev. Did you get to work with them in the film?
AD: Yes. I saw another shade of Om-ji, he is very humble, totally attached to Punjabi culture. He has learned many things about Punjabi culture which even no one knows in villages of Punjab these days. He is very religious. He used to keep a copy of “Ik Onkar Satnaam” with him. He is fond of gurbani [compositions of the Sikh gurus], so I gave him many audio shabads [hyms] and Sikh history books. He used to drink lassi all the time and would share with me. We were also sharing the same vanity. He is very funny and a great actor. Gugu Gill plays my father in the movie and Rahul Dev is chacha, so that was my best family! We had a very good chemistry and I wish to work with them again. I found Rahul Dev also very humble. He is very deep and has a keen interest in reading books. He loves his son and asked to borrow a few Sikh history books for his son’s knowledge. So we were really like a family while shooting.
MB: Do you ever get nervous acting in front of such veteran performers?
AD: No, I never get nervous because I don’t perform the scene, I just feel myself in that situation and automatically the performance happens. So, I don’t perform, someone else does inside me; why should I be nervous then. I have seen all phases of struggle in my life so I need not to copy any actor.
MB: In IK KUDI PUNJAB DI the main lead is played by singer Amrinder Gill and you are in a secondary lead role. It has become very common in the new wave of Punjabi cinema to use singers in the lead roles.
AD: After a long time a new era of Punjabi cinema again started with Manmohan Singh’s movie JEE AYA NU (2002). At that time no actor wanted to waste himself in Punjabi cinema due to the film industry’s downfall. Because of the lack of willing actors, Man-ji had to launch Harbhajan Mann, who was a popular singer. Luckily people liked the story line and direction of JEE AYA NU and the film worked well. Even though people didn’t like Harbhajan’s acting, they had no other option, and Punjabis outside the country wanted their children to know their culture; hence the film became a big hit in Canada. The film was a success not because of Harbhajan Mann, but because of the strong message which attached the youth to Punjabi culture. Harbhajan Mann became lucky for Man-ji, so that’s why he made several more films with him. Audiences slowly became use to Harbhajan, and at the time there was no competition, as Manmohan Singh was the only active film maker in Punjab.
MB: And the success of Harbhajan Mann’s films cemented this new trend of (almost) exclusively using Punjabi pop singers in the lead roles.
AD: Many singers started thinking that if audiences can accept Harbhajan Maan [as an actor] then why not him. Now, singers think it’s better to do a film than a music album because for a movie they can charge a fee, and also a movie has a long life, if it works. Also, on behalf of their popular songs they can get shows with high prices.
MB: Of course signing a hit singer in a lead role doesn’t always guarantee a hit film.
AD: Correct. Sharry Mann was a very big hit singer whose debut movie was super flop; but still producers and directors couldn’t understand that storyline content is what is most important for a film, rather than any singer. Till producers and directors will not take actors for their leads in Punjabi films, the industry can’t be at its peak as most singers have limitations in acting. But an actor is versatile. Again, a downfall will start if producers and directors ignore actors…eh gall directors te producers nu samajh leini chahidi hai…this is a difference in Hindi and Punjabi films. See how we got Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, because directors were strong and they were confident about their story and direction. These days directors are weak and that is why they are dependent upon singers; they think a singer will attract the audience, not the film’s story.
MB: Many other Punjabi actors have expressed a frustration with the lack of film opportunities this has presented.
AD: Singers have set-up their lobby system, they don’t let actors be part of the industry, and you will notice that my film AJJ DE RANJHE is nowhere on TV screens. Even my name was also not nominated for that film in the actor’s category for PTC Film Awards. When I was a second lead in IK KUDI PUNJAB DI, that time my name was nominated, but why not this time? I was main lead in a Punjabi film, which they can’t tolerate. I ask of Manmohan Singh and PTC Awards — why was I ignored for any award, as well as in interviews and in reality shows. I asked Rabinder Narayan CEO and he said I was out because of lobby system in the industry. So, I openly challenge to those that if God listens then no one can stop anyone. Every success is in God’s hand…if God wants me to succeed then no one can stop.
MB: Going back in history a bit, before you entered the acting arena you worked as a model. You had set out as a medical student, so how did this change happen?
AD: How I got into modeling, that’s long story. I wanted to be doctor, so for preparation I went to Delhi. I had not enough money to stay in a hostel or as a paying guest so I used to stay in Gurdwara Rakab Ganj hall. Even a few times, due to security reasons, police warned me not to sleep in Gurdwara hall. Slowly I started doing a marketing field job but they didn’t pay anything so I used to eat in ‘langhar’ [where community meals are served at gurdwaras) and used to do my studying in the gurdwara. One day I went to a saloon for a beard trimming. A group of models were getting their makeup done there for a mega ramp show to launch some hair products. I had long hair as I never cut it, being a sardar. Employees thought that I was one of the models and began coloring my hair. I was very tired because of the heat outside and had fallen asleep, so I didn’t realize. Then a lady came who was a choreographer and she wanted to know who I was. I said I had just come for beard trimming and fell asleep on the chair, and when I woke-up they were coloring my hair. Then something clicked in her mind and she asked would I be a main show stopper for the mega ramp show. I told her that I never saw any ramp show and didn’t know about modeling. I was just a villager guy. She said “No worry. We will train you for that.” What had happened was that their main show stopper, who was an Italian guy with long, long hair had missed his flight from Frankfurt, but my look, after coloring, resembled that of the Italian model. That’s why the employees were confused, also. Because of my Italian looks I got a chance to do that ramp show as show stopper, and that’s how I got my first experience.
MB: That set you on a new track!
AD: Except that after this show I ran away because after seeing myself in the newspaper I got scared as my parents would never tolerate me in that profession. I would have to hide all this, so I decided to stay away from modeling in the future. But God has its own way. Again I started self studying in the gurdwara, and got a room there sharing with an employee. For one month I totally concentrated on preparing for medical admission. Finally I was selected and got a free seat, but staying in a hostel was still too expensive. At the gurdwara that employee refused to keep me in his room any longer, so now I had no place to stay. Then I met up with Vishal Nischal, who was assistant photographer on the ramp show. He said that the show was a hit and everyone wanted to take me into their company. I told him I was sorry, but that my parents would never allow it. He said he could arrange a room for me but he said, “I have to click your pix.” I said “Ok, you can click my pix.” He took me to his home. His family had come from Pakistan after partition and the government had allotted a home for them, but he had a huge family without much income source, and his dad and mom were not well. I told him that if I am staying with him then I can do anything possible for his family. So after college classes I used to work with him as a model. I never demanded any money. We started living like family members. And that’s how my career in modeling started.
MB: And then you made your way to Mumbai.
AD: My college professor, Mr. Nirmal Vilson, was a big fan because I was featured in music videos. He said he’ll not give me the internship certificate till I don’t work with [producer/director] Ashustosh Gowarika, and that’s how I came to Mumbai. Till that time I was not serious about acting or modeling as my main focus was to setup a cancer hospital. When I came to Mumbai I met Karan Malhotra (director of AGNEEPATH) who was at that time assistant to Ashutosh Gowarikar on JODHAA AKBAR. Cast was finalized, but for one character, who was supposed to be done by a celebrity. Karan showed my pic to Ashu-ji and he immediately called me and said my face is carbon copy of real Rajkumar Ratan Singh, the character that they had yet to cast.
He showed me the historical picture and I was also shocked to see that he was 100% resembling me. That is how I got my chance. I came back to my college to receive internship certificate from Professor Vilson and was shocked to know that he had passed away a few days before, as he had suffered from blood cancer. At that point I decided to take my career seriously and went back and started shooting. However, Ashu-ji didn’t allow me to work in any film till JODHAA AKBAR was released. That was a long time, more than 2 years. So then I joined a production house as an employee where I made a few contacts.
As a model, Aman was featured in many music videos, including this one by singer Romey Gill
MB: JODHAA AKBAR was a big film, but alas, it didn’t quite become the career starter for you that it should have been.
AD: When JODHAA AKBAR released, most of my scenes had been deleted. Ashustosh said that because of controversy surrounding Rajputs in Rajasthan he had to cut the negative side of Rajkumar Ratan Singh. That was 6 to 7 big scenes that were deleted.
MB: But this was not the end of your Hindi film work, was it?
AD: Next movie was also a Hindi film. COFFEE HOUSE which was based on politics, so again it was in a controversy. I worked on two more Hindi movies with big production houses which got stuck. Then I made my mind to either move back to Punjab or to settle in USA on job basis. On the last day before I was to go back to Punjab I met up with a gentleman named Pankaj and he offered me a role in the Punjabi movie VIRSA, which of course was my entrance into Punjabi cinema. And so now, here I am with my 4th Punjabi movie now releasing.
MB: And this 4th Punjabi release — JATT BOYS–has had a very successful opening, so congratulations for that, Aman, as it looks to be a big hit!
To learn more about Aman Dhaliwal check out his website at: http://www.amandhaliwal.in/
You can also find him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/amandhaliwalactor
And here is a sneak peek at Aman’s upcoming feature film which will be both in Punjabi and English!!