Gippy Grewal’s latest Punjabi film, Manje Bistre, has set a new benchmark with its enormous success. Along with acting in it, Grewal has also produced and written the film, and is elated with the response the movie is drawing. Here’s the powerhouse of talent in conversation with Rohini Nag Madnani
Congratulations on Manje Bistre. Did you expect a response like this?
Thank you. We did expect the film to do well but we had no idea it would do so exceedingly well. Usually, when we make a film, we have a benchmark of our previous release. Or we have a film with a certain record-breaking number. If our film notches up a number even close to that benchmark, it would be great.
Now we know what it’s like to break records and never in our wildest dreams did we think it would come true. The response we are garnering and the numbers we are reeling in are unbelievable. The film has a good hype and the audience really appreciates it. That combination has worked in our favour.
The film is set in the ‘90s and it has a very rustic feel. What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to make a film that had a typical Punjabi wedding set-up in the backdrop. In today’s times, Punjabi weddings last only for a few hours, whereas there was a time when they used to last a whole month. Now people leave home for the wedding only a few hours earlier, with the obligation of giving the bride and groom the shagun ka envelope, and then they leave.
Weddings have become like fast food. Also, Hindi and Punjabi films glamourise Punjabi weddings and they don’t show the essence of a typical Punjabi wedding of old. So I wondered how I would make a film on a Punjabi wedding when they now last only 2 hours.
Then I thought of making a film on a wedding based in the 1990s. I have 12 elder cousins and I have witnessed the wedding of each one. So I wrote a concept like that. The film’s title Manje Bistre came from the times when there were so many guests at a Punjabi wedding that there wasn’t enough bedding for them to rest and sleep on. We had to assemble beds and bedding from our neighbours. So the wedding I have shown in my film is the kind I had witnessed back in those days. It has all the fun things that could possibly happen, including ‘90s romance!
I haven’t written many stories. The only one I had written earlier was a film I directed as well, titled Ardaas. This is my second attempt at writing. When I wrote the rough concept, it turned out well, and that one-liner went on to become a feature film called Manje Bistre.
What was the experience like while shooting the film?
It was extremely good. I am the producer of the film as well, so we did a lot of homework before we started to shoot. We had targeted to complete the shoot in 35 days, and we were shooting in a small village and didn’t have a lot of locations to shoot at. But we did have a lot of characters, 30 to 35 characters. We did many workshops and wrapped the shoot in 22 days. Even the songs in the film have been choreographed by me. I wanted authentic wedding dance, not something that looked planned. I wanted each character to seem as real as possible, and I think that is what touched the audience and they enjoyed watching it. The entire team enjoyed the shoot just as they would have enjoyed a huge wedding.
As you mentioned, there are so many characters in the film. While scripting, how did you manage to justify each character?
Everyone has a zone, where their train of thought works according to their own ways. Ardaas too was a film about characters and was a story of many characters coming together. But this film has a hero and obviously a hero’s part is the strongest. However, there was a lot happening around the main character. But it was not difficult because I personally knew each actor. I had each actor in mind for their respective roles while I was writing the script.
You are a singer, an actor, a director, a producer and a writer. Which role do you enjoy playing most?
I really enjoy directing but it is extremely time-consuming. I believe there are pros and cons for being a director. He has creative freedom and can do things according to his own vision. For instance, I wanted to make Ardaas in a certain way and I did. Obviously, people appreciated it but it was time-consuming and a director doesn’t even get paid all that well. (Laughs)
I have since decided to direct a film every two years to feed my creative hunger. I am working on a new concept and will probably start working on it next year.
Lately, not many Punjabi films have done well, and the films that have released garnered only a lukewarm response. The industry has been stagnant.
(Cuts in) Films like Carry On Jatta and Jatt & Juliet raised the bar for Punjabi films. We had no idea that our films could achieve box-office numbers like those, and that became a benchmark for us. The irony is, we wouldn’t cross those numbers. Eventually, we did break those records and, gradually, more films started to break records. More artistes came into the Punjabi industry. So the bar has been set very high for Manje Bistre.
However, when Hindi films release, we Punjabis go and watch those films. It means that Punjabis understand Hindi, and I have noticed that when I speak in Punjabi to Hindi-speaking people, they understand me. So the languages are not all that different. The point is, when we say ‘regional’, not many go to watch the film as they assume they won’t understand the language even though the two languages are not very different from each other.
Manje Bistre has five cinemas in Mumbai. Earlier, Punjabi films did not get such a big opening here. But, slowly, we are getting a boost. And the more we are boosted, the more we will grow and automatically business will also grow.
People are surprised at the figures Punjabi films are notching up but the fact is our market is expanding.
Speaking of Ardaas… you directed the film and got a good response too. Zee has now bought its remake rights. What’s the progress on that front?
We wanted to make that film in Hindi and I wanted to make it a little differently. I didn’t want the Punjabi audience to think the same film had been made in Hindi. So I have changed the format a little. I have added a few new things to it, made some changes to make it more appealing to the Hindi audience, made it more universal… That’s taking a while and we are working on it. The Zee team is at it too.
Have you decided on your dream team for the film?
No, I can’t name anyone right now. If I take any names and then make some changes, people will say ‘but you said that was your dream team’. So, no, I don’t have a dream team.
Lucknow Central, which is releasing on September 15, I will start preparations for that. Right now, I am enjoying the success of Manje Bistre. Wherever we go, we are getting a good response. It’s been a long time since a Punjabi film has got such a good response, a Punjabi film jiska shor sharba Bombay tak aya hai.
In Punjab too, there are a couple of films lined up. There is already a film, the shooting of which is complete. Then, we are even planning Manje Bistre part two, next year. Then there is Carry On Jatta 2. So, there’s a lot happening, touch wood.