Anil Deepak was the producer of Daljit Kaur, Gurdas Maan and Manjit Maan starring film Ki Banu Duniya Da (1987). Post Ki Banu Duniya Da’s reasonable success, he planned another film with Gurdas Maan which was based on the love tale of Heer Ranjha. In it, Salma Agha was to play Heer’s role opposite Gurdas Maan. But that film could not proceed after formal planning.
The producer Anil Deepak wanted to complete his dream project which he had planned in 1989. It took 20 years for his dream to come true. A meeting with Harbhajan Mann turned his dream into reality, still making Heer Ranjha was a risky attempt.
Heer Ranjha had Harbhajan Mann and Neeru Bajwa in titular roles, while the rest of the cast included Daljit Kaur, Guggu Gill, Jasbir Jassi, Shivinder Mahal, Raj Dhaliwal, Satwant Kaur, Gurchet Chitrakar, Gursharan Maan and Smeep Kang.
Heer Ranjha was written by Harjeet Singh. Ravinder Peepat, who was to direct another film for Harbhajan Maan, came on board as Heer Ranjha’s Director. Peepat was an assistant in RK Films during those days. When he discussed the general idea of making Heer Ranjha with Rishi Kapoor, the veteran replied to him in a very discouraging manner. The actor said, "Who will watch Heer Ranjha in today’s times?" Dilemmatic over the response, Peepat went on to warn Harbhajan Mann about the general perception but Maan did not want to back out. Soon, there was another obstacle.
Ravinder Peepat could not take time out for Heer Ranjha and that’s when Harjeet Singh stepped in as the Director. Harbhajan Mann also brought Ksshitij Chaudhary as the director to look after the technical aspects of the film. Both Harjeet Singh and Kshitij Chaudhary co-directed the film.
Was there any creative difference between the two directors?
Ksshitij replies, "No, not at all. Harjeet Singh Ji had written the film. He was my senior and it was a learning experience for me to work along with him.”
Today we see many Punjabi films based on the period set up and most of those films are shot in remote areas of Rajasthan. But Heer Ranjha was entirely shot in Punjab.
"We shot the film in almost every major to minor cities of Punjab. We went to Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Sangrur to Patti and selected particular locations with an ancient look," responds Ksshitij.
Heer Ranjha was a new kind of genre for both the lead actors. Prior to this film, Harbhajan Mann had done NRI family dramas, in which he was not required to show his acting histrionics. But in Heer Ranjha, his character had many layers-a carefree young guy turned servant cum lover to tragic figure and a saint. Maan’s diverse act proved his critics wrong, who questioned his acting capabilities. Similarly, Neeru was seen as a Canadian accent actress. Here she was to play a character from the famous Punjabi Love tale. It was her chance to show her range as an actress. She had to dub her scenes a couple of times to get the character right. Her dramatic scenes were the highlight of the film.
Films on Heer Ranjha were made before, so what was the plan to make it different from the previous films?
Ksshitij Chaudhry explains, "See, the basic story of Heer Ranjha cannot be changed, it will always be same and from our side, we did not have any intentions to outdo the previous classics. Even the makers of Sholay or others could not make another Sholay. We just wanted to make a beautiful film. There were few scenes (from 70s Heer Ranjha) we were heavily inspired from, but it was not like we were copying them."
Completing Heer Ranjha was a tough task. Even the investors wanted to back out from the project as they were out of funds. Harbhajan Mann stepped in as the producer with his friend Aprinder Grewal and took over the film.
Ksshtij recalls, "Even before the start of the film, I told Maan Bhaaji to not take such a risk. But he refused! I was surprised to see his vision and dedication towards Heer Ranjha."
This film had music by Gurmeet Singh and had beautiful songs. For the folklore of Heer, makers could only think of Shaukat Ali. While Ik Tu Hi Gwaah Saada and Chann Mahiya were chartbusters of its time.
Upon release, the film did well overseas but met with an average response in the domestic market. This month, it will complete ten years of its release. Heer Ranjha might have underperformed back then, but got the status of a classic in current times.