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Interview Punjabi

The story is very close to my heart, says Gill Raunta of Yes I Am Student

The Punjabi writer and lyricist talks about his debut acting role and the kind of stories he wants to bring forth to audiences.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Gill Raunta started his career as a lyricist in 2008, with his songs being sung by the likes of Ammy Virk, Himmat Sandhu and Gurnam Bhullar. He recorded his first film song, 'Kawa Wali Panchait', for the film Ardaas (2016). The song was sung by Virk.

Moving on to writing film scripts, Raunta's latest movie, Yes I Am Student (2021), starring Sidhu Moosewala and Mandy Takhar and directed by Tarnvir Singh Jagpal garnered huge audience response. Raunta also made his acting debut with the film, playing a friend of the lead character played by Moosewala, and has received appreciation for his work in front of the camera as well.

In an interview with Cinestaan.com, Raunta spoke about his interest in writing film scripts. “I started my career as a lyricist in 2008," he said. "In 2016, my first film song was recorded for Ardaas. When the song was recorded, the particular situation [in the film] was explained to me and I had a different experience while writing the song.

"After that, I regularly started writing film songs. While doing so, film stories also started getting discussed with me. I got interested and wanted to write a film script. Then I watched the film Daana Paani (2018) and was inspired by it. In 2018, I started working more towards writing films and started on that journey.

“As a writer, whether it is comedy, a love story, drama or an issue-based film, I try to put forward what is happening around us in society. I am not very interested in imaginative stories. I want to write stories based on real life on contemporary social themes,” he added.

Yes I Am Student is a film based on a crucial social theme, highlighting the many problems faced by Indian students abroad. Inspired by real-life incidents, the film examines the helplessness and frustration of students who are far from home, all alone in an alien land.

“I was in college when I came to Canada with my family," Raunta recalled. "While working here [in Canada], it just so happened that I came to meet a lot of international students. I got to know their problems and the challenges they face.

"I try and engage with social issues in my writing, be it film scripts or song lyrics, and I wanted to examine a theme that was different from the rest," he continued. "My sister told me about some of the problems being faced by her student friends and said why don’t I explore writing a film around students. That very day, I started writing the film... and I did a lot of research for it."

Speaking of the response the film has received from audiences, he said, “The film did well in India and in Canada it did extremely well. People watched the film repeatedly and sent so many messages on Instagram. People from England, New Zealand, Australia, all responded so well to it. Every student said what has been shown in the film has happened with me. The film was based in reality, and we brought together the experiences of eight to ten people in the story.”

Though Raunta was reluctant to be in front of the camera, circumstances were such that he needed to step up to the task, “Tarn [director Tarnvir Singh Jagpal] said that you do it [the role]. I said I have not even acted in a music video till now. But they encouraged me and Tarn said the character is within you and will emerge, don’t worry.

"The story is close to my heart and it was really important for me that the story does not get spoilt in any way. I slowly got used to being in front of the camera. I had never imagined people would respond to it so well and appreciate my work so much. I am so grateful to Tarn and Sidhu [Moosewala] who really supported me. I am also glad that the audience has liked my work and not given me brickbats!”

Raunta said he got a positive response from the Punjabi film industry as well. “Going forward, I will try to write some roles for myself in my future scripts. When you have written the script, it is easier to play the character because you understand it,” he said.

Reflecting on the predominance of comedy in Punjabi films, Raunta said a shift is happening with increasing acceptability for different genres in the mainstream. “Although it is true that comedy fares better than other genres in Punjabi films, this is slowly changing," he said. "Especially in the lockdown, Punjabi audiences watched a lot of content on OTT. They watched all kinds of shows and films. The younger audience especially started looking at social themes. In the coming years, I feel there will be greater acceptance for these films.

“There are opportunities, and it is an exciting time. One can also look at issues that are close to one’s heart because every writer, even if they be writing a comedy film, wants that they should do something different.”

Gill Raunta has several projects lined up now, including a film with Tarnvir Singh Jagpal and Jimmy Sheirgill.