The sensation named Gippy Grewal
The Punjabi singer-actor-producer seems to be caught in the crosshairs of gangster Lawrence Bishnoi and film star Salman Khan. But he’s no stranger to frenzy
Sometime in between two promotional trailers, Gippy Grewal’s world briefly came to a standstill. On November 23, the trailer for Maujan Hi Maujan, the Punjabi singer-actor-producer’s 34th feature film as its lead, was released; on November 28, the first look for SonyLIV’s upcoming Punjabi series, Chamak, dropped on YouTube.
On November 25, shots were fired after midnight outside Grewal’s home in White Rock, Vancouver — an alleged warning from Lawrence Bishnoi, a notorious gangster whose reach goes far beyond the bars of his prison cell. He is in jail while the National Investigation Agency gathers evidence of his involvement in smuggling heroin.
In a Facebook post attributed to Bishnoi’s associates, the firing was described as a “trailer”, a consequence of being close to a high-profile target on the criminal’s hit list — Salman Khan, who was convicted by a trial court in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison for killing two blackbucks, during the shooting of Hum Saath- Saath Hain in a village near Jodhpur on October 1, 1998. Khan was eventually granted bail but Bishnoi, whose community holds the animals sacred, has issued several death threats for Khan over the years; the shooting outside Grewal’s house is also being considered a warning for the Bollywood star.
“I have no friendship with Salman Khan,” Grewal, 40, told News18 in an interview earlier this week, adding, “When this incident happened, I was shocked because I have never faced any controversies before. I have no enmity with anyone so I couldn’t even think who could have been behind the attack.” The Bollywood superstar was invited by the producer to attend the launch of the trailer of Maujan Hi Maujan, and that’s where Grewal met him, he said.
Grewal’s shock is understandable. His image is that of a wholesome Punjabi star, a lad from Ludhiana who had a dream and the gumption to make it come true. After studying hotel management at the North India Institute of Hotel Management in Panchkula, Grewal headed west to Canada, where he worked a number of jobs — newspaper delivery man, factory worker, mall cleaner — to save money for a career in Punjabi music back home. His wife, Ravneet Kaur, worked at the Subway of the same mall in Vancouver, and unlike many performers who look back on their years of struggle with a tinge of sorrow, Grewal has always maintained that no job was too small for him.
His eyes firmly on the prize, in May 2002 he released his debut album, Chakk Ley; two years later, he scored his first big hit, Phulkari, from his third album, Mele Mitran De. Between 2002 and 2008, Grewal released an album every year, but he cut his teeth as a performer at Punjabi weddings all over north India, where his popularity steadily grew.
In 2011, Grewal and Yo Yo Honey Singh released Angreji Beat, a monster hit with a music video that tipped its hat at Grewal’s career as a wedding singer. Between 2010 and 2014, the Punjabi and Hindi entertainment industry sat up and noted the emergence of a performer who was desi with an international flair, at home in the mustard fields or fast cars, with a range of songs that could be played for pyaar, peg, party and Punjabiyat. Films were the next predictable step. After making his debut in 2010 with a supporting role in Mel Karade Rabba, Jihne Mera Dil Luteya (2011) and Carry On Jatta (2012) cemented his status as a bonafide triple threat: singer, actor and producer.
Grewal’s claim that he has never faced any controversy is not entirely true. In 2015, the music video of his song, Zaalam, featured him as a young Punjabi man who aspires to become a soldier but is forced to become a militant. The backlash was swift with politicians demanding police action for allegedly glorifying militancy. No FIR was eventually lodged.
After the latest incident, there are rumblings of an extortion bid seemingly linked to the friction between Canada-based terrorist, Arshdeep Singh aka Arsh Dalla, and Bishnoi. If these claims are found, then it wouldn’t be the first extortion call for Grewal; in 2018, gangster Dilpreet Singh had allegedly threatened to murder the entertainer. In his defence, Singh said that he’d called Grewal to urge him not to show weapons in his music videos, a common motif in Punjabi music.
Bishnoi’s threat also referred to Sidhu Moosewala, the global star of Punjabi hip-hop, who was allegedly assassinated by Bishnoi’s associates in May 2022. In contrast to Moosewala’s bravado that led to popular diss tracks and his affinity for guns and violence, Grewal has maintained a rather clean image over his long career, appealing to the youth and the older generation in equal measure. But does this latest incident point to the murkier side of the Punjabi entertainment industry?
The question goes back to 1988, when Amar Singh Chamkila, rural Punjab’s most influential singer, was assassinated alongside his wife Amarjot and two musicians from his band — the case remains unsolved. Grewal’s latest show, Chamak, which is slated to release next week appears to wade into this particular territory: Kaala, a young artist from Canada lands in Punjab and discovers that his father Tara (Grewal), a popular young singer, was murdered. Kaala’s talent is his music and if he can draw out his father’s killers with his craft, then revenge will surely be sweet.
Barring a single interview, Grewal has maintained his silence on social media. Last weekend, presumably before the incident, he had shared a teaser for his latest song, Gang Gang; the music video was to drop on his YouTube channel on November 28, but that is yet to happen. His fans have commented on earlier posts, asking him to stay safe, while a stray comment or two have remarked on the track’s title. The teaser doesn’t give much away but the violence Grewal is alluding to in his upcoming single might just have come too close to home.