A leading name in the Punjabi film industry, Gippy Grewal’s latest film Lock released amidst much fanfare this week. Here’s the actor-producer in conversation with Rohini Nag Madnani, discussing the Punjabi film industry, his upcoming projects and much more
Your upcoming film Lock released yesterday. How was the film conceived?
It is a very funny story. Smeep (Kang), the director approached me and said he had a script that he wanted to make. He also said he wanted me to produce it and bluntly told me that there was no role for me in the film; I could only produce it. I didn’t know how to react as he seemed so keen on directing this film. I wondered what was so amazing about this script that he wanted to direct the film himself, wanted me to produce it but not act in it.
When he narrated the story to me, I was flabbergasted by the subject and instantly came on board as producer. The film had an ensemble cast and follows four main characters. Of the four characters, one was suitable for my age and I grabbed it without a second thought. I am proud of this film as it is a first-of-a-kind in our Punjabi film industry. It is as much a thriller as is Drishyamand Rustom.
The film follows these four characters – one is a strict father played by Smeep; his daughter played by Geeta Basra; and the other two characters have been played by Gurpreet Guggi and myself. The title of the film is intriguing and compliments the narration of the film.
You are one of the top commercial actors in the Punjabi film industry. What prompts you to sign a project?
The most important factor is the content of a film. The script and the basic thought behind the film is what prompts me to sign it. The director and producer are secondary but if the content connects with me, and impresses me, and I think it will impress the audience too, I sign a film. We can never judge if the film will do well or not at the box office but it is our prerogative to present the audience with the best content that we possibly can. With Lock too, it was the never-done-before concept that attracted me to the film.
You have evolved as an actor, from romantic comedies to making films like Ardaas and now Lock, a thriller. Has it been a conscious progression or an unintended one?
In most professions, one progresses gradually while learning on the job. The same learning process applied to me. But as I mentioned before, it was largely a conscious decision. It is a privilege to be instrumental in trying to make our industry grow. Having said that, being an artist and a filmmaker, I want our Punjabi industry to evolve and that will happen only if we choose subjects that have never been tried before. We also have to make sure that our content is progressive in a way that if the audience compares our films to Hindi or Hollywood films, they shouldn’t be disheartened.
I have been in the industry for a very long time and it is my duty to make sure our cinema makes quality content. There was a time we would stick to rom-coms and our audience didn’t have a choice but to accept those films. With times changing, our audience is accepting and appreciating different kinds of films, whether Punjab 1984, Ardaas or films like Lock which tap into new genres.
Sequels are the hot flavour in the Indian film industry. You are working on a few sequels too.
Yes, I am working on Carry On Jatta 2 with Smeep and Jatt James Bond 2 with Rohit Jugraj. Carry On Jatta is one of the highest grossers in Punjabi industry and Jatt James Bond is considered a game-changer. In both films, the characters I played have been carried forward.
Your Hindi film didn’t do as well as expected. Was it disappointing? What do you think went wrong?
Failure is always a disappointment but it is the greatest teacher. Our business is a gamble as we never know what will come out of the films we make. But, to be honest, when I saw the film with Smeep and Dharamji two days before its release, I told them this film would not work. They felt I was wrong even though I felt the film was not made as we had planned.
The subject was impressive on paper but it hadn’t turned out the way we wanted it to during the execution and post. But in our industry, if an actor doesn’t give a hit for five consecutive films, he is labelled a failure. If his sixth film is a hit, no one remembers failure. Only victory matters.
You are working on your directorial film, Ardaas’ Hindi remake. Will you be directing it as well?
Yes, I will be directing the film too. We have locked the script and soon I will be flying to Mumbai to start casting. Zee Studios has come on board to produce the Hindi version and together we are contemplating signing a big actor for it.
As in the Hindi film industry, the release window has become important for the Punjabi industry too. Do you also have to take into account which Hindi films are releasing during that week?
Yes, we do. We are competing not only with Hindi cinema but with Hollywood as well.
You have been one of the top actors in the Punjabi film industry for a very long time. What do you think of the changes in the industry?
I feel our audience has evolved, mainly because of the different kinds of content we have started to create for them. One of the biggest and most important changes has been in the kind of subjects we tackle. We have become conscious of budgets too, but one thing I wish could change even more is marketing budgets for small-budget films.
If a Punjabi film is made on a budget of `6 crore, the marketing budget is an additional `2 crore. Hence, the total cost goes up to `8 crore. But when making a small-budget film on a budget of, say, `3 crore, we increase it so that it finds its audience. So a film made on a budget of `3 crore should have a marketing budget of, say, `2.5 crore. Small films should have bigger marketing budgets.
What are your upcoming projects?
Apart from the two Punjabi sequels of my films, Carry On Jatta and Jatt James Bond, and Ardaas’ Hindi remake, my next Punjabi film is Ni Tu Jatt Di Pasand. I am also working on a Hindi film produced by Nikhil Advani titled Lucknow Central.