I, like many people, am an ardent Gippy Grewal fan. Over the past decade Grewal has gone from being a typical Punjabi singer to a multifaceted super star. Thanks to the advice and guidance of his older brother Sippy Grewal, his career is soaring. He has millions of fans all over the world, is amazingly influential, and his celebrity status isn’t waning. That’s why I’m really impressed by his latest film ‘Ardaas’. At the peak of his popularity Grewal wrote and directed a movie that doesn’t appeal to the common crowd. Instead, ‘Ardaas’ can best be described as a film specifically made in praise and celebration of the Sikh spirit. Yeah, you read that right – Gippy Grewal made a religious flick.
‘Ardaas’ stars Gurpreet Ghuggi. His character is a village teacher who transfers schools and quickly finds himself surrounded by a slew of villagers all dealing with one or another of Punjab’s social ills. He makes a friend who’s in farmer debt, there’s an addict, and two public school teachers who don’t do their jobs. Half of the scenes in this movie take place at a village liquor shop, thus emphasizing the issue of the dangerous accessibility of alcohol in Punjab. The script includes dialogues about son-preference, abortion, and materialism. Oh, and did I mention Ammy Virk plays a struggling singer? If you’re getting overwhelmed at this point, it’s okay; that’s the main problem with this movie, there’s so much sad stuff going on that you want to give up. But Ghuggi’s character ‘Masterji’ never lets you. Carrying the movie’s plot from beginning to end, Masterji skillfully weaves lines from Gurbani into nearly every other scene. He pushes others to look beyond their own circumstances and focus on the deeper things in life. The movie is one hundred percent for and about the Sikh audience. Wow, didn’t expect that did you? Honestly, me neither. Before watching this movie I assumed Gippy Grewal was just a pretty face and nice voice. But ‘Ardaas’ made me realise that Grewal has a heart and this movie is probably his imperfect attempt at helping Punjab.
Look ‘Ardaas’ is not genius. It’s no modern day ‘Ucha Dar Babe Nanak Da’. There are times when you want to get up and slap Ghuggi’s character for being too preachy and such a know-it-all. To be transparent, I zoned out and nearly feel asleep a few times while watching it and as usual, there is no solid female character in the movie (there is however, a compulsory shout-out to the Bhagvad Gita but not one to the Quran – good one Indian censor board!) This movie’s context is devoid of Sikh historical context and it presents a very pop Sikh sentiment versus a deep understanding of gurbani. Clearly, the film is far from perfect. But for someone like Gippy Grewal to write and direct a movie that addresses issues like forcing women to abort female foetuses is a huge deal. It means the Punjabi pop industry, as controlled by India’s powerful Hindu elite as it is, can still eek out a pro-Sikhi film without completely selling its soul. And for Grewal to go from singing about fluff to shining a spotlight on the ramifications of drug addiction on the lives of youth, shows him to be way more nuanced that I ever thought. ‘Ardaas’ might not change your life, but if you go and watch it, I’ll promise it’s not at all what you’d expect.