India Today ... article


.... Article by By Geetika Sasan Bhandari and Nikita Singh

It isn't easy to track down Gurdas Maan. Despite being a singer of iconic status and a National award-winning actor, the Punjabi star remains elusive and low profile. So it is after much effort that we manage to get through to his wife and manager, Manjeet—who micro manages everything from his schedules, concerts and recordings, right down to his meals—and squeeze in ' an appointment at his office, Sai Productions, in Andheri, Mumbai. He's waiting for us; a flight to Chandigarh later in the day has been providentially cancelled and he doesn't hesitate to spend the day with us, despite having been up till two in the morning, shooting. "The day I have an off, it's my day to be useless and sick. All aches and pains surface then," says the 48-year-old singer, his trademark stubble intact.

But before he can tell us his story, he has duties to perform, A Punjabi family from Nairobi, fans of his, have come to meet him. He obliges them by posing for snapshots and chatting in Punjabi."Abroad they shower me with so much maan samman, it's difficult to measure" , he tells us when the family departs. True, his concerts across countries such as the US, UK, Canada,New Zealand and Australia are always sold out. Incidentally, he performs in a country only once in two years as a policy.

We tell him that in Punjab singers such as Harbhajan Maan, Gursewak Maan, Sardool Sikander and Jazzy B take his name with reverence. What is it that differentiates him from the pack? He says he doesn't have an answer. But we think we do. The answer is probably two-fold. First, most of today's singers are products of the television and media boom and their popularity lies more in their packaging than real talent. Maan, however, became successful in the pre-music video days. He was a star much before promotions and PR skills created stars. And when he sang live, it meant live.

The second reason could be that Maan is looked upon as an artist who has refused to sell out. Call him a puritan, but he has rejected scores of offers to release remix albums. He is one singer who continues to offer , original music in the Remix Raj. As we discuss this, Maan thinks he may have an answer after all. "1 have stuck to my brand of music and have never agreed to mixed shows abroad with other singers and actors. I always perform solo and that's why I have never got lost in the crowd." But Maan also says that Punjabi music artists today—especially the ones from the UK—who have heralded a new brand of Punjabi pop, cannot be disregarded. "They are binding Punjabis together internationally.In fact, it is because of them that Punjabi music has become known throughout the world," he says.

Ask Maan how he started out, and in true poetic style, he says "I kept walking and the roads kept opening up." He says he never really planned anything— neither his singing nor acting. We find that difficult to believe till he tells us that he was actually trained to be a sportsman rather than a singer. Maan graduated with a degree in physical education from Malout and then got a diploma in judo from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. But he soon found that music was his true calling.He would sing for his friends at social get togethers but it was only after a gig at a wedding that he realised that he could pursue it as a career.He came to limelight in 1980 when he performed Dil Da Mamla on Jawang Tarang a New Year Eve programme on Doordarshan. Three years later, he released his first album, Mamla Gadbad Hai. And as the cliche goes, there was no looking back after that.

Indeed, for the young boy who studied at a government school in Giddarbha in Faridkot district, it has been a rather long—and eventful journey. Today Maan shuttles between Mumbai and his home in Patiala, making trips to his village where his mother and brother still reside or a quick hop to Chandigarh, where his sister lives. When he is in Mumbai, he's busy with recordings and shoots (the team is currently working on its fourth film Waris Shah—Ishq Da Waaris) and rest of the time is spent travelling for shows. While in Mumbai, Mann manages to catch an odd English film at Fame Adlabs opposite his office, but if you happen to catch him at home in Patiala, don't be surprised to find him tucking into rajma chawal sitting cross-legged on a manji, he warns. It's almost like living two lives. And when we ask him which he prefers—his answer is delivered in his trademark poetic style: "I am a traveller. Put me anywhere and I'll be fine"

As Gurikk, Maan's son, says, "Dad is a true renunciate, a fakir. He is not at all fussy and is extremely detached from material things. If he goes abroad for a show and the organisers can't organise a suite for him, he is the last person to complain." Manjeet confirms that Maan still makes his own cup of tea in the morning, in spite of having lived a life surrounded by servants and domestic help. Maan is completely at peace with himself and it shows. Cooperative and relaxed for the photo shoot, he keeps spouting shers and lines of Punjabi poetry. They are from a book he's had since he was a child and he knows them by heart. Which is why he also writes well. Manoj Punj, director of his three productions, including Des Hoyaa Pardes for which Maan just won the National Jury Award for Best Actor this year, says the singer is the best Punjabi lyricist around.

Actor Parmeet Sethi says, "He is a superstar not only in the sense of being an actor or singer but also as a human being. I have worked in many films but there have been very few films where the producers have made me feel like a part of their family—Gurdas and Manjeet are among that select few. There's always home-cooked food, never outside catering. The Punjabiyat is pronounced when it comes to food and the atmosphere is so relaxed I that you feel the shooting is almost just incidental." We understand what he means as we sit down for lunch brought from Manjeet's home in Madh Island where she prefers to live "it's more open and green than the city". Maan stays with her father and son in their 19th floor flat in Lokhandwala Complex. The couple eats every day with several other staff members who are family than employees.Besides , Punj, their director, and Omkar Bhakri, their editor, there is Kanan Dhawan, who Manjeet says is her foster mother (as well as the executive producer of their films).

There's simple Punjabi food on the menu—stuffed capsicum, paneer, dal, matar pulao. rotis and boondi ka raita—the latter being Maan's favourite but also his undoing. "Raita affects my throat and activates the sinus," he says, before gorging on gajar ka halwa. "I'm trying to keep my weight under control because I'm getting older," says Maan, who regularly works out at the gym at JW Marriott Hotel. But Manjeet interrupts with some good-natured ribbing— "It's only because he has to feature in films that he's so bothered about remaining slim." Maan and Manjeet both strongly believe that they are where they are because of the Punjabi language. "It has given me food, shelter, name and fame," says the singer emotionally. In Canada, Manjeet tells us, there is a museum dedicated to film costumes and among the Western outfits stands Maan's typical Punjabi outfit, the chaadra, the dress he performs in. But at home, he prefers the comfort of a trouser and shirt and walking shoes.

Maan and Manjeet's 25-year-long association (they met in college and she married him at 18) has meant that she vocalises his every need even before be has mentioned it. Maan has no idea when his album is due for release or which country he tours next; Manjeet is completely in control of all that. Which leaves him to just concentrate on his art, without disturbance or distraction. "She is the manka in the mala which keeps this whole thing together," he says the ever-philosophical Maan. The singer is very religious and has a guru based in Nakodar. He says life has come this far only because of his guidance and blessings. But then, Mann is quick to hand out credit to everyone, not once does he mention his own struggle or the hard work it took to achieve the stature he enjoys today. This humility only makes the Punjabi icon stand taller.

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