Not long after I got hooked on Bollywood I began to explore India’s bounty of regional cinema, and when I got to that country’s Punjabi language films it was Harbajan Mann’s feature from 2004 Asa Nu Maan Watna Da that ramped up my interest in Pollywood (an interest which has grown steadily over the years, almost surpassing my interest in Hindi language films, in fact). Not much later I learned that Aryan Vaid, one of my favorite Bollywood actors, had lensed a Punjab film titled Ek Jind Ek Jaan (2006). I scooped up the DVD of the movie just as soon as it was released. Today it remains one of my top three favorite Punjabi films.
Ek Jind Ek Jaan is a delightful movie; colorful, sentimental, family oriented, and full of wonderful songs and dances. It introduced me to people I would come to recognize as regulars in Punjabi cinema, like Deep Dhillon, Gurpreet Ghuggi, and B.N. Sharma. I was already quite familiar with the film’s stars Raj Babbar and the aforementioned Mr. Vaid, but it was my first time seeing actresses Nagma and Prabhleen Sandhu, both of whom are very good. Then there was Mighty Gill. As one of the featured leads he also made quite an impression, and it turned out that this was only his 3rd film. In fact, it was also his final film! So what happened to his career, I wondered? Mighty was charming, talented, handsome, and had a very good screen presence. I wanted to know more about him, particularly why it was that there seemed to be so few “Mighty Gill” films!
It took a bit of searching, but I managed to locate the former actor (billed simply as ‘Mighty’ in his two Hindi films), who now resides with his wife and son in Australia. Born Mantej Singh Gill in a small town in Punjab, his family eventually shifted to the city of Chandigarhi. His lineage is that of a landlord family of Jatt Sikhs whose main occupation was farming and agriculture. Mighty’s parents were both government workers, but he himself was not particularly interested in a 9-5 desk job, so he chose to work in real estate, helping others make the right investment in agricultural, commercial, and residential properties.
The screen name ‘Mighty’ came from his childhood nickname, which his mother used to call him. Directors liked it, and it stuck. It also fitted the muscular build he had sculpted over the years. As a child he was quite weak and fragile and was prone to bullying by his classmates. “They gave such a hard time to me,” says Mighty. “But during my last years of study I got into bodybuilding and worked extremely hard. Maybe it was a hidden anger for being bullied that pushed me to extremes. Now I feel thankful to them. Most of those people are out of shape now!” he says with a laugh.
After some modeling work and appearances in music videos, Mighty Gill found an opportunity to act in films. Here for the first time he gives the lowdown on his time in front of the camera.
Mike Barnum: Your family had no show business connection, so what led you to a career in film?
Mighty Gill: I never thought to step into modeling or films, professionally… things just happened. I was doing my graduation in Mumbai and later, for fun sake, I enrolled in a short term acting course. It was not of much use, but I made contacts from there.
MB: And Tezaab – The Acid of Love (2005) was your first film?
MG: Yes Tezaab was my debut. Somehow I came in contact with its director, Mr. Shakeel Noorani. At that time he was in a financial mess and wanted to make a quicky film to set the meter rolling. He wanted to remake a South Indian film using a new star cast. He took screen tests and I was selected out of few other contenders. I was made to see that original Tamil movie, and I liked it… it was a clean, family film, an innocent love story. The search for the female lead was on during that time and I was happy as I had signed a three film contract with Gems Movies. But destiny had different plans and I was unaware of it.
MB: As it would turn out, Tezaab would not end up being a family film at all.
MG: Family drama and love stories were failing at the box office during that time, around 2003-2005, and bold movies were doing good business. Noorani was not in a position to take any risk and he and his team of assistants decided to make a bold film with a bold theme. They convinced me, and I felt that since he was a family man I knew he wouldn’t make a bad, vulgar film. So now [instead of remaking the Tamil film], we were doing a copy of the American film Unfaithful. Mahesh Bhatt, at the same time, was making a movie titled Murder with Emraan Hashmi, which was also an adaptation of Unfaithful, so there was a race. But because of strong backing, and being good strategists, the Bhatt camp took all the honey.
MB: Your costars in Tezaab were Parvin Dabbas and Shruti Sharma. But I understand that things did not go smoothly.
MG: Irrfan Khan and Shruti Sharma were originally signed for the film, and we even had a photo shoot together. Irrfan Khan backed off later, and Parvin Dabbas was selected [to replace him] for the role of the husband. Parvin is a good actor and was very professional. Shruti Sharma, being a non-professional, gave such a hard time on the shoot.
MB: She was difficult?
MG: I had a big fight with Shruti a couple of times during the shoot. We stopped shooting. The director and his team knew they had made a wrong choice with casting Shruti. They used to have to show her the contract papers in order to get work done. She and I were never friends and we used to talk only in front of camera. No ‘hi’ or ‘hello’… nothing of that sort.
By the time Murder was released our film could not find buyers. I want to tell you one thing, the bedroom scenes for Tezaab were shot very aesthetically, initially, and the film shaped up nicely, but in order to sell the film the bedroom scenes were shot again, and their duration was increased. The director wanted to sell it at any cost. It was at this time when I felt so hurt. I was made to do such things that I never wanted to do. I remember during the shooting of bedroom scenes, when they were using a body double of Shruti, I used to cry my heart out in the dressing room. The film makers tried to pacify me and were telling me that it’s just a part of my duty.
MB: That must have been very difficult to have signed on to something and then have the whole essence of it change as it did.
MG: I did it, being a professional and committed to my work, but after that my heart changed forever and my craze for filmdom vanished. After giving the last shot for the film I went to a secluded beach and cried and cried.
MB: Was your experience with the Punjabi film Ek Jind Ek Jaan a more positive one?
MG: You know, my experience with Tezaab was not really that bad, because eventually I realized what kind of person I am truly. I am certainly not attracted towards glamour and glitz. I got to know that I can work only in my space. And doing Ek Jind Ek Jaan was fun. Everything related to that film was good…the story, music, promotions, cast and crew, etc. Sadly, Punjabi audience rejected its main lead pair of Aryan Vaid and Nagma. Aryan is a good actor, but [as a hero] he just couldn’t make a connection with audience of Punjab. These days Punjabi audiences have more liking for singers turned heroes. Raj Babbar was also in the film and he and Nagma are well known [in Punjab], and they are good and humble too, but the film failed miserably at the box office.
This film has done good for me because the blame (black spot) that I have done an erotic film was washed off after its release. People in my circle remember me for Ek Jind Ek Jaan.
MB: Besides Tezaab, you appeared in one other Hindi film titled Utthaan (2006).
MG: Utthaan was made by my known friend Ujjwal Chatterjee.. I paid him a visit on sets and just did 1-2 scenes casually.
MB: Many performers in Bollywood have complained recently of the casting couch system. Was this also a problem for you?
MG: Casting couch does exist in Indian film industry. Not just for girls, but for boys too. I remember once a famous film star’s secretary, who was a bisexual, told me that if I join their group I will do five films in a year, but if not, I will be reduced to doing one film in five years (laughs).
MB: Had you ever considered the production side of film making?
MG: These days directors are asking me to either produce or invest in films, but I cannot do this. It’s a risky business; in fact it’s 98% risk. One needs a great effort and tons of good luck and a stronghold to succeed in films. I have seen that out of 100% film fraternity, only less than 10% are earning well… the rest are just wasting time and money… but it’s a craze for glamour. Name ‘n fame, which keeps them going on and on. The television industry in India is doing good, though. There is a regular income in that. A little effort and perseverance can help you get good work [in television].
MB: You made only a handful of feature films and then vanished from the screen. What happened?
MG: I was losing my motivation. It was not a question of my bread and butter, so I set my mind and I just quit. I am not much of a social type; you know, going to parties and showing off. I just wanted like-minded people to work with. I am a very simple person. To work in the film industry it doesn’t matter how you work in front of the camera, but how you carry yourself off of it.
MB: So, no regrets at leaving the film industry behind?
MG: I was certainly not cut out for all of that and I thought to quit. I am glad that I made that right move. Now I am happy and doing things my own way. And no pressure to look good all time! I have a beautiful wife and I feel content. I am happy and I have no regrets. I believe in living life proudly the way you want to live. I am blessed with a lot of good things in life. Although my priorities have changed now, and I spend most of my time and energies in my business and family, deep inside my heart I do still crave for good cinema. The element of simplicity has vanished in today’s films. We are getting superior in terms of technology, but on the creative side we are losing our grip. So I will end this with lyrics from Pink Floyd. “There will be war, there will be peace. Everything one day will cease. All the iron will turn to rust, and all proud men will turn to dust”
Though his acting career may not have reached the ‘mighty’ heights that (at least in my opinion) it could have, he still left a mark on Indian film history. And while he is not particularly keen on his work in Hindi cinema, with the Punjabi film Ek Jind Ek Jaan, Mighty Gill has at least one picture that he can one day very proudly show his kids and grandkids.