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‘We have greater creative freedom’

Punjabi films will soon start crossing The Rs 100-crore mark, says actor-singer Gippy Grewal

Actor-singer Gippy Grewal is one of the biggest names in the Punjab film industry today. Since making his debut in the 2010 film Mel Karade Rabba, Grewal has gone on to star in Punjabi cinema’s biggest blockbusters like Jihne Mera Dil Luteya, Carry On Jatta, Jatt James Bond, Manje Bistre and Carry on Jatta 2, among others.

In this interview, Grewal talks about his latest release Manje Bistre 2, his early struggle in Delhi and Canada, the growing popularity of Punjabi films, and what all he learnt while working with Farhan Akhtar on Lucknow Central.

Excerpts:

Manje Bistre was a huge success. What can we expect from Manje Bistre 2?

Manje Bistre was basically all about our past. The traditional Punjabi style of weddings were still relevant till the mid-90s — wherein families used to borrow beds and bedding from neighbours and friends to make arrangements for the large number of people who would gather for the wedding festivities which usually went on for days.

Now, Manje Bistre 2 is set in Canada and I would like to tell you that Punjabi weddings that take place in Canada are far more traditional than what we have in Punjab now. It’s so because the family elders who have moved to Canada a few generations back tend to miss their lives in Punjab a lot and so they want to keep their traditions alive.

You are a singer, actor, writer, director, and producer. How do you juggle between different roles?

Every role is different and each comes with its own set of responsibilities. I try to keep things simple. As a producer, one is required to be shrewd enough to keep a track of the budget. Also, you cannot compromise on the quality. In the end, if the total spending goes slightly over the budget it is acceptable but you should know where to draw the line.

At the end of the day, it is a business and  you can’t afford to lose money. Writing, on the other hand, requires a lot of time. It’s an organic process and so the story has to evolve on its own and the way I understand — it’s something that can’t really be forced. As far as acting is concerned, it comes naturally to me and so I like keeping it spontaneous. And, I was a singer long before I became an actor. Also, I enjoy directing. The challenge arises when I am both directing and acting at the same time. That’s when it gets a bit tricky.

How do you reflect upon your journey? Also tell us about your early struggle.

Well, to tell you the truth, it has been a very long struggle. During my early days I used to work in hotels across Delhi in order to sustain myself. Then one day, I realised that it cannot go on forever. So, I went back to Punjab and tried my luck in singing but nothing really materialised.

Then I traveled to Canada. Once again I had to struggle a lot in order to survive. I remember I was working for 17-18 hours on a daily basis, with hardly  any time to sleep. But the hard work paid off as the money helped me in recording an album. After the album released, I got back some money. I was finally on the right track. Then taking one baby step at a time I have finally managed to reach here. Yes, it’s been a long struggle but during the journey I think I have ended up learning a lot. One tends to value success even more if one has worked hard for it.

The trend of sequels is fast picking up in the Punjab film industry. What are your thoughts on this trend?

Well, not every film can have a sequel. But when a film becomes a big success there is a lot of demand to recreate the same magic. Initially, I was not in favour of making a sequel to Carry on Jatta, but the kind of messages we received from the fans we were compelled to make a sequel.

You just need to look at the box-office figures to understand how well it was received by the audience. The same is true for Manje Bistre. Since it became such a hit, there was a lot of pressure on us to make a sequel. But it is not about money always.

Take, for example, the case of Ardaas. In comparison to Carry on Jatta or Manje Bistre its performance was quite average at the box-office. But people connected with it very strongly at a personal level. It was a socially relevant film and many of my fans urged me to make more such films. So now we are making Ardaas 2 also. One advantage of making sequels, I have realised, is that it provides a great boost to the industry. Once a film becomes a brand, its sequel automatically gets a big initial push at the box-office.

A lot of Punjabi singers have turned into actors. What do you attribute this to?

I personally feel that it is only possible in the Punjab industry because of the strong music video culture that we enjoy. Now, if we look at the Hindi film industry, we come across some amazing singers such as Arijit Singh. Now the thing is that as great a singer as he is, we haven’t seen him in many music videos.

On the contrary, the Punjabi artistes regularly keep coming up with individual private albums and singles, unlike others. As a result, they automatically develop a camera sense. Nowadays even the videos are made like short films. I personally had done over 50 music videos even before I shot for my first film. So I was both popular and had decent exposure to camera.

How do you see the gap between Punjab industry and Bollywood?

Today almost every Bollywood film has a Punjabi number. All our major Punjabi songs are being acquired by Bollywood. Now they have also started to acquire the rights for our films as they want to remake them in Hindi. I remember when I had started out I did a film with Diljit Dosanjh called Jihne Mera Dil Luteya. Its total gross was barely around Rs 15 crore.

At the time, it felt really big but last year Carry on Jatta 2 easily grossed Rs 65 crore. So the 100 crore mark now doesn’t look very far. When a regional film grosses well at the box office it naturally creates a curiosity among the audiences which further boosts its collection.

Like, I was compelled to watch Sairat because of the hype at the box-office. One of our biggest strengths is that even our music videos have a very high quality of production, whether it’s the shooting patterns, camera angles or colour palettes. I remember a very famous Hindi director once got so impressed after watching a music video we shot that he actually started inquiring about the techniques we employed to shoot it.

Do you have any plans of shifting to Bollywood any time soon? Also tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am currently focusing on expanding my production house. While I am not averse to doing Bollywood films occasionally, my focus is really on my work in the Punjab industry. Moreover, there is no dearth of resources, here also we have greater creative freedom.

I did Lucknow Central mainly because of Farhan Akhtar and I actually learnt a lot while working on that film. It taught me the importance of doing workshops. Since then we have started doing workshops for all our Punjabi films also and the benefits have been great. Speaking of my upcoming projects, other than Ardaas 2 and Carry on Jatta 3, I have also signed up a Hindi film as a director. Also, there is a big Hindi film as an actor that’s about to get finalised.