GURU Gyaan From RANDHAWA Himself

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A Guy, In His Late Twenties, At The Top Of His Game With Easy Access To Any Supercar, Fancy Bike Or A Swanky Phone; I Wonder What Luxury Means To Him
 
WORDS SHOURYA JAIN
PHOTOGRAPHY ASHISH CHAWLA
SHOOT DIRECTION CHAHAT DALAL
HAIR & MAKEUP PRIYANKA MAKHIJANI, TEAM WOW MAKEOVERS
STYLING NAVYA CHANANA AND SANA JAISINGH
LOCATION HYATT REGENCY GURGAON
 

AS A KID, I REMEMBER VISITING MY Grandfather’s office. A distinct and fond memory. Not so much for the round, rubber-stamps stand on his huge presidential style table or the dark brown mahogany wood furniture. Not for his limitless library of leather bound law books that I would try counting (and give up after 435) every time I’d visit his office. Not even for his assistant who would leave me bewildered with her origami swans with flapping wings. But I remember it as a distinct memory for one thing in particular. His chair. His slightly squeaky, black leather office chair with a backrest as high as three of me standing on top of one another back then. I’d always be hesitant to sit on the chair when he wasn’t around. And I’d always wondered what was so intimidating about that chair that made me feel that way. Almost fourteen years later, after him no longer being with us, I think I’ve now finally figured it out. It was the respect for the chair. A respect that came from his cutting edge professionalism.

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So in lieu of that well embedded professionalism, a present day me is keeping herself three hours ahead of the shoot call time. Just to make sure everything is in place, on schedule and keeping up with the standards of a national magazine. A thick layer of fog has encapsulated Delhi-NCR with a spine chilling of 9 degrees Celsius. And in spite of poor visibility of just up to 5 metres, nothing is bringing the crew’s spirits down for this shoot. A cover story on one of India’s biggest pop culture icons – Guru Randhawa. Guru has just arrived in a convoy of more than four cars and an entourage of 14, or is it 20, people; I’m having trouble counting again! A convoy led by a Gypsy, followed by a Land Rover and an Audi and a couple of other cars is enough to intimidate any paparazzi, keeping them out of the way of the work that he was here to do – shoot for the cover story Just URBANE. I quickly make a mental note of lesson one from Guru Randhawa’s book of professionalism.

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As we’re ten seconds into shooting his interview, he asks me, “With the shades or with the shades?” Okay, that’s a first. A celebrity choosing the concepts and art direction of the magazine over his own preference? “Anything you like,” I tell him promptly. He comes back to me with “No whatever you say. It’s your shoot. Whatever you’ll say, I’ll do.” Making it clear, Guru is all game for the shoot. A guy, in his late twenties, at the top of his game with easy access to any supercar, fancy bike or a swanky phone; I wonder what luxury means to him. “Well, it is very subjective. What might be luxury to me might not be luxury to someone else,” he throws a vague answer at me. I too am determined to get a definitive answer so I ask again, pressing the question a bit harder with stressing on the last bit; but what does it mean to you? “For me, luxury is a smile.” I think I hear some female crew members chuckling in the background at that response. He’s already revealed a lot about himself, without making it overtly obvious. Which also makes him a man of few words; crisp and classy. Adding to my (strong) case of professionalism that I’m trying to make here, if it isn’t evident by now.

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Not giving in to his attempt at keeping the interview non-technical, I spin another question trying to decode his methods. “My process of songwriting?” he pauses and takes off the shades and continues amused. “The process of song making involves taking off the dark sunglasses in order to be able to see the paper that you’ll write the song on. Secondly, you observe the girls around you,” he takes a pause again making the (chuckling) crew members at the back go silent. “...and observe the guys around you and pick up on their traits. I learn what’s in currently, what latest slang they’re using and then I mix it with the influences of the music that I’ve grown up listening to. It’s an everyday process. The way you guys go about doing your work every day. You don’t have to actively think about the process. It comes naturally to you. I pretty much do it the same way,” he says finishing his effortlessly layered answer. 

Guru’s songs and music compositions represent a not just a type of music but a much bigger sentiment. It’s peculiar to think that he is a key player in the transition of the Bhangra pop music industry from being just a cult favourite to now being a global sensation. His chartbuster songs, whether it is Lahore, or High Rated Gabru or several others, have record breaking views on YouTube and are loved by the masses! Owing to his unfathomable amount of fan following, I can’t help but ask him what he would be doing if he were not a music artist. “I would have been a music artist only. But would not have been here shooting with you guys.” Wait was that a full stop? As I mentally prepare a graceful rebuttal to the apparently appalling statement, he continues his answer, “I would have still been a music artist singing somewhere in my village.” Not so appalling after all, in fact he’s coming off as a person well connected to his roots and someone who hasn’t forgotten where he comes from despite his massive success. The checkpoints on the list of characteristics of professionalism is growing by the minute and Guru is adding some points I’d never thought could be a part of this hypothetical list that I’m creating in my head.

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But not for a second does he let me mistake his humility for a lack of desire for success and fame. “The transition of Bhangra pop into a global scene has been great. Everybody, whoever is doing independent music is doing their own thing, just like I am. Once we get a break in Bollywood which is a bigger market, we get to know the mainstream artists from Bollywood. Our favourite actors and actresses. Yeah, actresses!” He playfully repeats that bit and in a successful attempt of self amusement and continues explaining, “And we get to know the bigger producers. The bigger platform we get the more fame and money we get, hence contributing to our country. It makes India look big in terms of music, on a global level. So it’s good and I love it!” His passion is his work and he knows damn well how to capitalise that talent into something profitable while being true to his art. “The luxury brands in our music videos are all through sponsorships. Bigger the artist, bigger the brand. But it doesn’t really matter when it comes to the mp3 part of a music video. If the song is good to hear only then will people like it. What we put in the video doesn’t really make a difference in the success of a song.” He’s making some excellent points and my mental checklist is overflowing. “It’s just like your magazine. You can get me or get anyone on the cover. But nobody is going to flip through it for hours and hours if the content is not good.” Okay I’m stumped, fifty (thousand) points to Guru!

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Your level of dedication towards your work is often (wrongly) equated with over diligence. Especially in a country like ours, it is rather appreciated if you offer to work overtime or on a day you’re not supposed to be working. But does it really count as a parameter to the case I’m making? “My lifestyle is very simple. I rest when I’m home. I do nothing, I’m too vella when I’m home. I play video games or pool. And I eat dal roti. That is pretty much what my lifestyle is like.” What video game are you playing? I follow it up with intrigue and anticipate a hardcore gamer level response that would go over my head. “Fifa on a PS4!” So naturally I’d think he’d be looking forward to PS5 launching soon. “What? Is it launching? When? This year? Nice nice nice! Why don’t you guys gift me!” he sounds psyched and can’t stop exclaiming gleefully.

With this he’s made one thing very clear. In all probability, professionalism is also about taking a step back and giving yourself the rest you need, whenever required.

Remember what I mentioned at the beginning of this story? It all boils down to the one thing, which is respect. Respect for the elements in your life and respect for your art. For the entire duration of the shoot I tried getting him to sing a bit for us, but he sneakily kept dodging it. Because he respects his art and knows its worth. He knows that he’s earned the right to not give it out for free. And that was Guru’s parting bit of gyaan on what it takes to practice professionalism. Case closed!

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