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“Punjabi Films Are Growing As They Have More Universal Appeal”

He is seven films old and has built a successful music career. Gippy Grewal is among the most successful Punjabi film actors today. A multi-tasker who sings, produces, distributes and exhibits films, Grewal will soon venture into Hindi films. In a free-wheeling chat with Rohini Nag, he speaks about his experiences in both film industries and a lot more

Tell us something about your journey, from singing, to producing films, to exhibiting, distribution and acting?

It’s been fantastic so far. I started my singing career in 2000 and made my acting debut in 2010 with Mel Karade Rabba. I am one of the very few artistes who have learnt about the business while being a part of it and with no previous experience in the art of filmmaking.

I am also lucky to have worked with established names, not only in the Punjabi film industry but Hindi film industry too. With my first film, Mel Karade Rabba, I shared the screen with Jimmy Sheirgill. The film was a huge success, thanks to its production values, storyline and execution. I received a whole lot of appreciation for my work and soon became a household name as a Punjabi actor.

The Punjabi film industry is yet to become as big as the other regional industries, specially Tamil and Telugu.

Our Punjabi film industry has found a strong foothold only in the last five to six years. It was in 2000 when Manmohan Singhji started to work in Punjabi films and it was he who bought about a revolution in the industry. The Tamil and Telugu industries are much older and it is unfair to compare our industry to theirs. Recent Punjabi films like Carry On Jatta, Jatt & Juliet and Singh Vs Kaur drew a phenomenal response from the audience, which is an indication of our growth as an industry.

What accounts for the sudden growth spurt in the Punjabi film industry?

The storylines are much stronger and our concepts are now more universal. We no longer make films that revolve around Punjabi themes only. Earlier, themes were restricted and were reality-based, for instance, the NRI theme. But now our films have more universal appeal.

For instance, if you take Aamir Khan’s Ghajini or Yash Raj Films’ Dhoom series… These films have a strong story and the protagonist could have been anyone, regardless of caste or culture. These films have a very specific subject. Earlier, Punjabi films lacked substance in their subject. They were Punjab-oriented and hence our audience was also limited.

Hence, when we made Jihne Mera Dil Luteya, it was an out-an-out comedy and on the lines of the cult classic, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan starrer Andaz Apna Apna. We no longer have a limited audience and our films are being made on a larger scale for a larger audience.

Earlier, Punjabi films had limited scope even in our own northern belt. They had no prospects in the metro cities. Now it’s a different story. They used to release films with just five or six prints in territories like Delhi but now they releasing with more than 30 prints.

You will be debuting in a commercial Hindi film, Mubarakan, which will be produced by Viacom 18. How did this happen?

I was approached for the film and I gave the green signal. But the formalities are yet to be worked out. I want to work in the Hindi film industry as well and I am always on the lookout for a good offer. I have built a reputation in Punjabi films and hence the audiences’ expectations are high. I also have a huge fan following overseas and this audience will watch my films whether in Punjabi or Hindi.

A Good Day To Die Hard was recently dubbed in Punjabi and you lent your voice to one of the main characters. What was it like dubbing for the film?

It was a very interesting experience. English films have been dubbed for local satellite viewing ever since the Punjabi film industry began to do well in the last few years. The TRPs of these dubbed movies are sky high. Hollywood films that are dubbed in Hindi and other regional languages generate impressive ROI. So this time around, Fox Star Studios felt the Punjabi market was strong enough to initiate this trend. Now Hollywood knows that dubbing their films in regional languages here has a huge market.

We know that dubbed South films showcased on satellite generate impressive TRPs. Do you think Punjabi films could enjoy a similar fate on television?

Of course it will work! For instance, my film Carry On Jatta was hugely appreciated in Mumbai. So, sure, Punjabi films dubbed in Hindi will generate impressive TRPs. This may take around two years but it will happen. We are achieving great heights and are witnessing the best-ever phase in for our industry.

In Carry On Jatta, you co-starred with Mahie Gill, and your upcoming film Lucky Di Unlucky Story features Jackie Shroff. Do you think more Bollywood actors should try their hand at regional cinema?

There are some mainstream actors who are taking the initiative to work in regional cinema. The film I am currently shooting, Bhaji In Problem, is Akshay Kumar’s first Punjabi film as a producer. We have Om Puriji, Avtar Gill, Ragini Khanna and Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh in the film. And Akshay Kumar is doing a cameo. When you have an established actor like Akshay Kumar working in the film, it makes a huge difference.

Your banner Gurfateh Productions has also been producing, distributing and exhibiting films. How did you venture into that? Do you plan to distribute Hindi films too?

My brother Sippy Grewal is an Australia-based distributor and he is into production with me as well. He was already into distribution down under, where we used to only handle Punjabi films. Then we expanded our overseas distribution to other countries like Canada, America, the UK and New Zealand. While we started by distributing only Punjabi films, we recently ventured into distributing Hindi films overseas too. We have built a very good network and my last release Singh Vs Kaur was distributed not only overseas but in Punjab as well.

As a producer, how tough is it to survive in the Punjabi film industry? And are you planning to produce a Hindi film any time soon?

No, we don’t plan to produce any Hindi films right now, as one should first have a good grip on every aspect of filmmaking. If we get the right kind of project, we will try our luck making a Hindi film.

Since Punjabi films are at par with Hindi films overseas, how differently are Punjabi films distributed overseas compared to Hindi films?

I feel the big corporate houses don’t market their films properly in the overseas market as big Hindi films are not released in territories like Australia and New Zealand. We release our films and even promote them over there. Many of my films have surpassed the gross collections of Hindi films in the overseas market. We have been contacted by many corporate houses, asking us to distribute their Hindi films abroad.

Your song Angreji beat was featured in in Cocktail, do you intend to sing more songs for Hindi films?

I wouldn’t mind doing that as long as it is my kind of song. I have been approached by many Bollywood music directors but somehow it hasn’t worked out as these songs are neither Punjabi nor Hindi but something in between. Such an assortment of lyrics takes the punch out of the sound track. But I would love to sing an out-an-out Punjabi number for a film. The song Angreji beat boosted my popularity after it was used in the film. After listening to this song, people who were unaware of my film career or my Punjabi singing career have acknowledged my work on the whole.

You already enjoyed success this year with Singh Vs Kaur and your upcoming films Lucky Di Unlucky Story (April 26) and Best Of Luck (July 9) are releasing this year. What are your expectations from these films?

Lucky Di Unlucky Story’s trailer has already released and we have received a tremendous response. The film is directed by Sumeep Kang with whom I have previously worked in Carry On Jatta. Lucky Di Unlucky Story is an out-an-out comedy flick and has been made on a very large scale. Best Of Luck is also turning out according to our expectations.

We plan to promote both films in other markets too. We are going to target Mumbai as it is the base of the Hindi film industry. We always try to outdo our previous results. We had special screenings for Singh Vs Kaur in Mumbai and got an overwhelming response. People like Subhash Ghai and Satish Kaushik appreciated our work and that encourages us to do better the next time.

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