Gippy Grewal is one of the most successful Punjabi film actors today. A multi-tasker who sings, produces and acts, he will next be seen alongside Dharmendra in Mukta Arts’ first Punjabi venture Double Di Trouble. In conversation with Rohini Nag, he speaks about his Punjabi film and his first Hindi film, Secondhand Husband
How was Double Di Trouble conceived?
My collaboration with Smeep Kang, the director of the film, goes back a long way. We were planning our next film and we had done back-to-back comedy films, so this time we were interested in doing something different. I told Smeep that our next film should be different and big in terms of content. We were consistent with the kind of films we were doing, hence I wanted to expand and try something other than just loud comedy. At that time, Subhashji (Ghai) was interested in producing a Punjabi film and often said he wanted to do a Punjabi film with me.
Once, when I was visiting Mumbai, I introduced Sameep to Subhashji. At that time, Subhashji told me that Carry On Jatta, which featured me and was directed by Smeep in 2012, was often screened at his film school Whistling Woods International as a reference film for the students. That meeting became the stepping stone to developing Double Di Trouble.
Dharamji is one of the main protagonists in the film. How did you approach him for the role?
When the script was written, the film had two main protagonists in double roles and Dharamji was not in the picture. Other than myself, we had not thought of any other actor or the rest of the cast. The film is inspired by Comedy Of Errors, a play by Shakespeare. Here, we had father and son characters that have double roles. While I was reading the script, I realised that both the father and son roles had equal footage and are at par with each other. I was going to play the son and I wanted the father to be played by a very strong actor, someone who is much more flamboyant than I am. So I told Smeep that we would make this film only if Dharam paaji would agree to do the film. It was quite a task to convince him to be a part of the film. He knew me and Smeep very well but it was still tough to approach him for the film. We knew that whenever anyone approached him for a film, he would say, ‘Abhi nahi beta, thair ke karenge.’ But Smeep met him and tried to convince him and we showed him all of our previous films.
Finally, he asked us to narrate the script to him. Luckily, he loved it and he instantly said he wanted to make the film under his banner Vijayta Films. He wanted to produce the film and he said, ‘Mukta Arts mein nahi ye film Vijayta Films mein banegi.’ I told him I had already taken money from Mukta Arts and everything was confirmed but I assured him that we would do our next project with him. Finally, our journey of Double Di Trouble began.
What was it like working with him?
It was fabulous! I am a big fan of Dharam ji and everyone in Punjab is a big fan. He is a brand ambassador for Punjabis. In Punjab, the kind of respect and love he has can be called ‘devotion’. People believe there is no artiste other than him and that he is our only representative here in Bollywood. It was amazing to work with him. He is a great actor and also a greater human being. He treated me like his son on the sets and whenever I visit Mumbai, I make it a point to meet him as I have grown attached to him.
Were you ever intimidated while working with him?
No, he made me feel comfortable on the very first day of the shoot. It was very generous of him to arrive early for the shoot. On the very first day, he left a message for me to visit him in his vanity van. When I met him, he said if there was time before the shoot started, we could talk and play card games. This happened every day of the shoot. Interacting with him that way made it very easy for me to work with him as well. I realised much later that he did that so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed to act with him and so that we establish a comfortable rapport.
Even the big actors in Bollywood admire him. Aamir (Khan) told me once that when he met Dharamji for the first time, his hands were trembling as he had never seen such a big hand like that of Dharamji. Even I was awestruck to be working with Drahamji, a legend. But since he is such a humble person, I never once felt uneasy.
Subhash Ghai too is an institution when it comes to filmmaking. Was he creatively involved in the film?
From the moment we narrated the script to Subhashji, he told Smeep that he absolutely loved it. He said he didn’t feel he needed to offer any inputs as he was totally convinced of the script. He also said he would visit us on the sets but only as a guest. He said he would not involve himself creatively with the film. He told Smeep to make the film exactly as he wanted to. He said a very profound thing to Smeep, that ‘Har bande ka ek time hota hai aur aaj tera time hai. Main kuch creatively nahi suggest karoonga. Jis se tujhe lageke involvement ho rahi hai.’
Did you even once think of making the film in Hindi instead of Punjabi?
The Hindi film audience is not new to double roles but the concept is very new for the Punjabi audience. We have had double roles in small scenes but never a film based on double roles of its two main protagonists. This is a tried and tested formula for Hindi films but a completely new concept for our industry.
Speaking of change in Punjabi films… Jatt & Juliet had a sequel which generated impressive box-office returns and you announced a sequel to Carry On Jatta some time ago. When is the sequel going on the floors?
Yes, we announced Carry On Jatta 2 a long time ago. Carry On Jatta gave me name and respect both in equal ratio and the same goes for Smeep as he garnered massive appreciation for the film. A sequel will definitely get us money but it might cost us the respect we earned. This is the tricky part when making a sequel. When you have a successful film and plan a sequel, it is only right for the sequel to have something extra for the audience. The only reason to make a sequel is to have an outstanding script and concept that validates its existence. We have found a script which we feel is a match and even compliments Carry On Jatta. We have started working on the pre-production and we are planning to start shooting by the end of this year and planning a May-June 2015 release.
The song Angreji beat launched Yo Yo Honey Singh’s career in Bollywood. Not many people know that you too have sung that song. Why have you not ventured into Bollywood with your music?
I am not focusing on that as much as I am on my acting career. I have visited Mumbai so many times only for my meetings with music directors who want me to sing for them. But when I hear their songs, I feel they don’t match my voice. I fear that I wouldn’t be able to justify the songs or that my voice might change the tonality of the tracks. I have been approached for some songs which are neither Punjabi nor Hindi but something in the middle… according to the music director, it is a Punjabi number but being a Punjabi, I feel it is a Hindi song. I also don’t want to disappoint my fans who expect a certain kind of music from me. As far as the song Angreji beat goes, it was a typical Punjabi track but it worked. Now the Hindi film I am planning to do will have a few songs sung by me. But if I am ever approached with a good Punjabi track for a Bollywood film, I would love to do it.
A lot of old Punjabi songs are being used in Hindi films. Has anyone approached you for your old soundtracks for their films?
Yes, even though I struggle to understand how they can use typical Punjabi numbers so well in Hindi films. But there is a problem sometimes and this happened with Angreji beat. Before the makers of Cocktail approached us for the song, many other producers had approached us for the same song. We tried to get them the rights of the song but what had happened was that in the UK someone else had the rights, in the US, someone else had them, and similarly in India, someone else had them. So we could not get the consolidated rights. Similarly, a few of my songs had an identical problem and nothing worked out. Even for Angreji beat, we had lost hope but I don’t know how the makers of Cocktailgot the song.
You had earlier signed Viacom18’s Hindi film Mubarakan. Why didn’t that work out?
We were talking but things didn’t work out. I am talking to some corporate houses for other films and I hope something works out. Box Office India will be the first to know when I sign any more films. It is very important to pick the right launch film.
You are venturing into Hindi films with Secondhand Husband, which is not only your launchpad but Govinda’s daughter Narmada’s launchpad too. How is the film shaping up?
Yes, we are going to start shooting for the film soon. It is a high-on-content kind of film like Vicky Donor and Kahaani. I have been contemplating venturing into Hindi films for a very long time but I was very conscious of the fact that there are two scenarios, one where the film works at the box office or it doesn’t; and the other where the film doesn’t work at the ticket windows but is well received and appreciated. As an actor, I didn’t want to disappoint my audience and wanted to do a film which would get my work appreciated. Whether a film works or not at the box office is not in our control but the quality of film and the amount of hard work we put into it is within our grasp. And it is our prerogative to give the best to our audience.
What kind of involvement did Govinda have?
He read the script, evaluated the project and loved the film. I feel the most important aspect of a film for an artiste is the script, and we were confident that our script was good. The film is not so out-of-the world that audience will reject it but the film is a good-new which regular people can adopt. So after the narration, Govindaji didn’t think twice before saying ‘yes’. He didn’t suggest any changes. We locked the script and didn’t change a thing after that.
Are you anxious about your debut in the Hindi film industry?
Yes, since it my first Hindi film, I am going to work very hard. I give everything I do one hundred per cent. It’s the same with my music and acting careers. Our entire team is now focused on Secondhand Husband. For the next six months, I have no Punjabi film and we even postponed Carry On Jatta 2 so that our Hindi venture has our undivided attention. Our target is to be completely focused on Secondhand Husband so that there is no window left for mistakes. This will be our first step in the Hindi film industry and we are going to be judged by this film.