Goa witnessed an emotional press conference on November 27, when the cast spoke about the Punjabi film, Waris Shah, directed by Manoj Punj who met with an untimely death a week after his film released.
The cast, comprising of Gurdas Mann, Juhi Chawla and Divya Dutta, came close to tears as they remembered the 36-year-old director.
The International Film Festival of India honoured the director by paying homage to him.
"Manoj Punj had a lot of energy, and was very talented," Juhi said. "I first worked with him in Des Hoyaa Pardes. I was quite impressed with him when he first met me, though initially, I had reservations to act in his film. But his script and the film's climax left me dumbfounded. The film bagged the National Award for Best Punjabi Film. Gurudas also won the jury's special award. The film was a big success overseas. After that, I worked with him in Waris Shah."
Waris Shah is set in the 17th century, and is about Sufi saint Ishq Daa Waris.
"Manoj worked very hard for the film," Juhi added. I have also worked in his English film Political Asylum. It is difficult to believe that he is no more. Whenever I would wrap up a film with him, I would ask him when he would call me again. Now, I cannot ask him this anymore."
Divya Datta had worked in all his films till date, from Shaheed-E-Mohabbat Boota Singh to his latest Waris Shah.
"His end was so sudden, so shocking," she said. "On October 22, Manoj and I were planning a surprise birthday party for Gurdas Mann's wife Manjit (who produced Punj's films). Half an hour later, Manjit called to say that Manoj was no more. He had died of a massive cardiac arrest."
"It is bad luck for Indian cinema in general and Punjabi cinema in particular that we have lost a talented technician so early," she added.
But one of his unfulfilled ambitions -- to bring Punjabi cinema into the world map -- was finally being fulfilled. Waris Shah is one of India's entries to the 79th Academy Awards. The entry was made by India Waves TV, San Francisco, California on behalf of USA distributors of the film Golden Palm Entertainment Inc. The film will compete in various categories, namely Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Costumes.
Gurudas Mann dedicated his special jury award to Manoj Punj and remembered the director as a great friend and human being. "I had worked in all his films. To think he will not direct me again is a very sad feeling," he said.