In 2015, Bhushan Kumar played me a scratch of Ban Ja Rani on his mobile phone. He said, “This is from the boy who sang Suit Suit in Hindi Medium. His name is Guru Randhawa.” Many of us in the room jumped with excitement when we heard the song. Within days, it made its way into my film, Tumhari Sulu (2017). The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
“I am not a trained musician. I am from a village, born to simple parents. I had nothing to bank on but undying passion for music.”
That was the start of my relationship with Gursharanjot Singh Randhawa – the then 24-year old lad with canyon-deep dimples from Gurdaspur in Punjab. Like most small towners and outsiders, he had super-star(ry) dreams of Mumbai.
I was instantly drawn to his innocence and simplicity. Mumbai can be ruthless to those who don’t carry the placard of some privileged clan, so my protective instincts took over and I decided to be around for him from the time he began finding his toehold in this big, ravenous city of dreams.
Suited to the high life
I invited Guru to the set on the day we shot his song with Vidya Balan and Manav Kaul. Accompanied by a posse of young blokes from Punjab and emerging from a black Merc, he walked towards me with an impish smile on his cherubic face. “Hello sir,” he beamed. The smile broadened when he sat before the monitor watching Vidya and Manav’s shenanigans in what went on to become a national chartbuster.
“I hear the gurbaani every day. Life may have metamorphosed but I can never forget my roots and beginnings.”
“I am not a trained musician. I am from a village, born to simple parents. I had nothing to bank on but undying passion for music. I performed extensively in college in Delhi, got noticed and got things moving. I would open shows for several artistes in Delhi, and simultaneously, I wrote songs and began banking them, hoping that a record label would sign me one day. That didn’t happen because record labels wanted stars. But I never lost hope. Somehow, I managed to make it to the UK for my first ever music video shoot with Arjun (Coomaraswamy) – Suit Suit. The track became a huge hit and life took a turn. So, I will credit Arjun for my first big break in independent music,” he smiles.
I recall inviting Guru for a friend’s party in SoBo in 2016. He embraced my invite with charming alacrity. That night, over karaoke and alcohol, he won many hearts, drum-rolling the fact that he was here to stay. His professional barrier with me was finally broken when, in a catharsis of sorts, he hugged me tight and said, “This is my first party in Mumbai. I really enjoyed myself. Thank you for this special memory.”
Even today, he smiles when I remind him of that night. “It was special, sir. I’ll never forget it. It gave me two brothers – Imtiaz bhai (Khatri) and you. It’s priceless to find real people in big cities. I know this bond is for life.”
A different beat
This is the Guru Randhawa who hasn’t changed in the four years I’ve known him – grateful, appreciative and loving. He never fails to acknowledge those who held his hand during his sprint to the top. “I met the T-Series team through a friend in 2015 and was dealing with their Delhi team. In 2017, I met Bhushan sir who noticed me from the song Yaar Mod Do, and placed his bets on me,” he says.
In no time, Guru struck a chord with music aficionados around the world, and started amassing views in the thousands, then millions. He travels the world in first class, is accompanied by security personnel and managers, is driven in chauffeured luxury vehicles, is housed in well-appointed hotel suites (though he is currently in a luxurious Airbnb in the centre of Milano), and earns handsomely by enthralling cheering crowds. The journey has been a fairy tale.
“I take each day as it comes. I am not insecure. Eventually, it’s your song that works, and if your song works, you work!”
“I’m everything thanks to Guru Nanak Dev ji’s blessings. I hear the Gurbaani every day. Life may have metamorphosed but I can never forget my roots and beginnings. My parents supported my ambition through and through and I’ve never let them down. They hear all my music. They’ve even learnt how to search for my songs on YouTube. Sometimes my father watches my videos and asks me about the beautiful girls in them,” he laughs, while adding, “My mother complains that she has to subscribe to so many more channels to watch my songs. Earlier, my songs played only on regional Punjabi channels. Now they play on the mainstream music channels too! Seeing my parents happy is my high.”
Having lived in London for years, I’m privy to the paindu bhangra scene in Vancouver and Birmingham. I’ve often wondered why most Punjabi songs sound the same. There’s a reason why their artists haven’t moved out of the time warp that they’re caught in.
When I ask Guru about it, he is quick to react.
“Most Punjabi songs use the same dhol, rhythm, thumbi, and a degree of fatigue has set in. It is crucial for us to keep reinventing ourselves.””
“Most songs use the same dhol, the same rhythm, the same thumbi, the same instruments. Even the lyrics and production have a déjà vu feel about them. I do agree that a degree of fatigue has set in. It is crucial for us as artists to keep reinventing ourselves. I’m always trying something new with every song. But I am clear about my songs never being vulgar. I use simple words and shoot clean videos. That’s why I receive love from fans across generations. I like it that way. I don’t intend to be the bad stud next door. I’m very darpok like that!”
In the fast lane
Having known Guru closely for years now, having hung out with him and attended some of his live shows, I’ve seen him relish the new high life that’s come his way, and deservingly so.
“I’m working almost every single day. The hunger is hard to suppress. I make sure my staff is happy. I look after them. I am mindful that all this is transient. It’s there today, it may be gone tomorrow. But I don’t worry much. I take each day as it comes. I am not insecure. Eventually, it’s your song that works, and if your song works, you work!” he says with a confidence that’s been briskly developed in the years gone by.
Guru enjoys performing at flamboyant weddings the most, but when you ask him about his own, he laughs, “I am settled. Settlement is in the mind. There is no pressure on me to get married.” Prod him further and he winks, “I’m in a great space of mind at the moment. The love I get is gratifying and motivating, but I have no immediate plans of biting the bullet!”
From being a composer-singer to endorsing brands because they are “good money” and producing Punjabi films,
“As I see the dreadful crisis in Italy, I think of my time in Milan and pray that they emerge victorious”
Guru has even set about launching his clothing line. The high-rated gabru who raised a couple of arched eyebrows on being sighted at a fashion week in Milan, admits he was enamoured by the “new experience.” He smiles, “I put Punjab on the map of Italy. I am grateful to be living the dream. Few from my part of the world are privileged to get so much exposure. As an individual, I am always open to new adventures and experiences because they broaden one’s horizons and pave the way for mental and emotional growth.”
“I am clear about my songs not being vulgar. I use simple words and shoot clean videos.”
“And as I see the dreadful crisis Italy is grappling with, I am reminded of my fun times in Milan. It’s a beautiful country with lovely people, and I pray and hope that they emerge victorious in this deadly battle,” adds Guru.
Every now and then, I tease Guru that he’s about to turn 30 soon. So, where’s the party? “I’m never turning 30, sir. The clock is turning backwards for me,” he guffaws.
Tanuj Garg with Guru Randhawa
With a new single in the market almost every other week, almost a dozen gigs in a month and palatial houses in Mumbai and Gurgaon, nothing in Guru’s life has been happening slowly. As his Lamborghini races down the fast lane, the munda from the pind is determined to overcome the scanty obstacles with elan and hit new career curves.
Join the conversation using #GuruCool
(Author bio: Tanuj Garg is a well-known Bollywood producer and Managing Partner of Ellipsis Entertainment. He has distributed, co-produced and produced more than 35 Bollywood films till date. His most recent hits included Neerja and Tumhari Sulu.)
Note to readers: This photoshoot with Guru Randhawa was conducted in Italy for HT Brunch much before the coronavirus crisis hit the country.
From HT Brunch, April 12, 2020
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