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BOLLYWOOD & PUNJAB : A friendly creative relationship of seven decades. (An overview by Bobby Sing) - Part Three

23 May, 2012 | Articles on Cinema

Character sketch of a SIKH in Hindi films post the mid 80s setback till 2000.

The decade of 80s is not remembered as a much contributing one by Bollywood and it was also a black decade for the SIKHS too. But their famous “never dying” spirit bounced back after a few quiet years and the Punjabi music could be heard loudly all over the country unarguably, post the strong Daler wave. However, this solid return also brought a negative change in the portrayal of Sikhs on the screen.

Actually by the mid 90s, Bollywood was going through a complete change of generation, where the fathers were making way for their talented kids in the family and many new directors were coming in with their fresh ideas influenced by the Cable TV revolution in the country. The mixed culture in the families where they had Sikhs relatives too around them was lost with the change of times and may be the respect towards the identity was also affected due to the same. And probably that was the reason why this disrespect visibly started coming on screen in many big films.

The heroes were no doubt now getting into SIKH get-ups once again, but at the same time the avoidable Fun Element also got associated with the identity prominently and directors started using Sikh Characters as some comic figures to raise laughter in the theater.

A perfect example of this was Karan Johar’s first film “Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai” (1998). Now for what reason he did it or whether it was intentional or not, one cannot say. But Karan did made fun of Sikhs in his film, through a character of an innocent 10-year-old child who was taunted with reference of 12 pm time repeatedly in its few sequences. The scenes even involved Johny Lever who also later played another funny character of a singing sardar wearing the trade-mark long robe dresses of Daler Mehndi in “Anari No.1” (1999).

Thankfully the community took a quick and firm notice of these objectionable scenes and Karan Johar had to cut those particular sequences from the already released prints. But one thing was pretty clear from these comic references of Sikhs in Bollywood projects that now the situation wasn’t the same as it was before the mid 80s. Surely this wasn’t a pretty site or encouraging news for the Sikhs. Nevertheless due to a heavy negative feedback from the community, it all proved to be just a black cloud which cleared up fast for a much better future in the new millennium.

Post 2000
The first year of the millennium had a big Punjabi start which forced the Trade Pundits to take a strong notice of the huge potential in projects based on Punjabi content. Punjabi traditional folk mixed with the urban sounds and arrangements was fast spreading all over the world at a jet speed. Several major ventures made in India as well as in abroad became huge hits internationally which eventually transformed the whole scenario of Bollywood’s decades old relationship with Punjab in this new millennium.

The first major breakthrough came with a song called “Mundeyan Ton Bach Ke Rahin” sung by an Indian folk singer Labh Janjua with music by Punjabi MC living in England. Though the track was released long ago, it achieved unprecedented success around the globe after 2001, even in the Discotheques of those countries which didn’t understand even one word of its lyrics. Obviously the success was all due to its magical notes and catchy rhythm which was a new experience for the lovers of music in the foreign lands.

The second international success was a film called “Monsoon Wedding” (2001) directed by critically acclaimed director Mira Nair. The film, completely written and conceived around a Punjabi wedding ceremony, took the traditional culture of Punjab in the house of every lover of good cinema around the world. It had songs taken from the Folk heritage like “Madhorama Pencha” and “Kanwa Kanwa - Aj Mera Jee Karda” superbly sung by Sukhwinder Singh in his high pitch.

And the third important project which attracted almost everyone towards it due to its unusual title was “Bend It Like Beckam” (2002), once again directed by Gurinder Chadda. The film gained maximum exposure being a sports movie based on Football and had a Punjabi girl with a burning passion towards the world’s most famous sport. The project repeatedly served as another window showcasing Punjabi culture, its family values, traditional ceremonies and melodious music in front of the entire world with conviction.

Now when the foreigners were enjoying watching all these Punjab-based projects, the euphoria was even better within India itself where one of the biggest grosser of all times got released in 2001, again featuring Sunny Deol as a tough and honest Punjabi. The film was called “Gadar” which went on to set many new records at the box-office proudly announcing the revival of Punjab in Bollywood after many years. Interestingly, very few know that “Gadar” was reportedly based on a Punjabi project made by another son of the soil Gurdas Maan with the title “Shaheed-e-Mohabbat” (1999) having a qawwali composed by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Gadar

After a long time, Gadar made the whole nation sing a Punjabi Bollywood song “Main Nikla Gaddi Leke” along with the popular aggressive dialogues from the film. In no time the Punjabi flavor was all over Bollywood with every mega venture having a track as per the Hit trend. Karan Johar returned (carefully) with a Punjabi Kajol in his “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” (2001) including the hit number “Shava Shava”. Malaika Arora sizzled in ‘Mahi Ve” (Kaante) and Shahrukh had “Layi Vi Na Gayi” in Chalte Chalte and “Mahi Ve” in Kal Ho Na Ho. Gurinder Chaddha came back with another Punjab based international venture “Bride & Prejudice” featuring Aishwarya Rai. Yash Chopra once again visited Punjab in his “Veer-Zaara” with Shahrukh, Priety Zinta and Late Madan Mohan (using his pre-recorded compositions). His son Aditya Chopra explored Punjab too in his “Rab Ne Bana De Jodi” with Shahrukh and Anushka in the lead. Jazzy B, the latest Punjabi Pop King was seen in the song “Chak De Punjabi” in Teesri Aankh and Himesh Reshamiya made Akshay Kumar sing “Chakna Chakna” in Namaste London, which in fact was a Punjab inspired version of Manoj Kumar’s “Purab Aur Paschim”. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi also made “Pinjar” (2003) based on the novel with the same title by Amrita Pritam, but probably the subject was too off-dated for the market which was more in the mood of danciing on Dhol beats and Punjabi melodies. Bhagat Singh

In an amazingly unusual move by the Bollywood producers, there were more than four films made on the life of Bhagat Singh and that too released together within a gap of few weeks, featuring Ajay Devgun, Bobby Deol & Sonu Sood playing the title role. Patriotic punjabi songs such as “Rang De Basanti Chola” & “Pagdi Sambhal Jatta” were once again being heard on the TV and radio. The spirit continued with “Rang De Basanti” in which the perfectionist Aamir Khan played the Punjabi DJ and A. R. Rahman composed some fabulous Punjabi tracks including a devotional one. Singing these Hit tracks were all young and talented singers namely Sonu Nigam, Sukhwinder, Kunal Ganjawala, Daler Mehndi, Mika, Sunidhi Chauhan, Richa Sharma and Harshdeep.  Kamal Hassan

Heroes supporting a Sikh getup became the new trend in Bollywood and we had mega stars wearing the turban such as Amitabh Bachchan in “Kohram” & “Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyon”, Sunny Deol in “Jo Bole So Nihaal”, Akshay Kumar in “Singh Is King”, Salman Khan in “Heroes”, Sanjay Dutt in "Sarhad Paar" and Saif Ali Khan in “Love Aaj Kal”. The impact of a Sikh character had become so strong that even Kamal Hassan played a Sikh Singer (on the lines of Daler Mehndi) as one of his 10 different roles in his mega venture “Dasavatharam”(Tamil)  down the South. And Shonali Bose, a Bengali film-maker made the most authentic film based on Delhi Sikh Riots in 1984 titled “Amu” (2005) which was also banned by the government at that time and later could only be released on Home Video.

The Chaos Post Akshay Kumar’s “Singh Is King” (2008)

After having tasted blood with the success of his “Namaste London”, Akshay Kumar sensed a new Hit formula of making films based on Punjab largely depending upon his personal Punjabi image and origin. Working upon the same plan he came up with “Singh Is King” in 2008 which along with other catchy songs also had tracks like “Bhootni Deya”. The film became hugely successful but at the same time also resulted in a division between the community, disapproving the way it portrayed the character of a Sikh.

Taking advantage of this difference of opinion in the community, there were loads of Hindi films exploiting the Punjabi theme with both good and objectionable presentation of the rich culture, which wasn’t tackled well by the Sikh religious authorities. And this resulted in a silly chaos post “Singh Is King” which is continuing even today with every second film having something related to Punjab and its music. Pnkaj Kapoor

So without going into the details of the last 4 years, I would frankly like to state that at present Bollywood has two kinds of producers-directors who are willingly using Punjabi & Sikh characters in their scripts with their distinctive visions. At one end we have directors who still project them as comedians in some funny sequences and on the other there are visionary film-makers who are bringing forward a new intelligent image of Sikhs as Ranbir Kapoor in “Rocket Singh” (2009). Thankfully the strong, powerful Punjabi man fighting for the truth has also returned on the screen with Pankaj Kapoor in “Halla Bol” (2008) which even had a soulfully rendered Shabad by Sukhwinder after a long time.

Now the above detailed description evidently proves that Bollywood has always taken a lot from Punjab right from the years of its inception, yet never acknowledged it as an important contributor in its projects. But here honestly Bollywood cannot be blamed for not giving the proper credit or a deserving recognition to the Punjabis since the community itself remains the culprit here for two important reasons:

One - Riding on the cracks within the community and its leaders in the last two decades, Bollywood film-makers at present very easily escape with films projecting Sikhs as comedians with no objections at all from either the viewers or the authorities.     Ranbir Singh

Two – The Punjabi viewers themselves don’t appreciate and watch movies which need to be applauded from a Sikh point of view pretty loudly. For instance, I would like to rate “Rocket Singh” as the Best Movie made in the last two decades, brightly portraying a Sikh (played by Ranbir Kapoor), as a religiously honest as well energetic person who proves himself to the world. The film even had dialogues such as “Maine Aaj Tak Kisi Sikh Ko Chori Karte Nahin Dekha” which truly deserved loud applauses in the theaters. But sadly this film was a big flop all over, including Punjab, Delhi and Overseas.

So if the community wishes to gain its due respect and acknowledgment from the makers, then along with raising the objections whenever required, it also needs to praise Bollywood efforts like “Rocket Singh” wholeheartedly to show their whole hearted appreciation. Otherwise with a mixed portrayal on screen, a Sikh character will always remain a confusing or an ill-defined personality in cinema for the world and future generations.

The present write-up is an honest attempt to sum up the contribution made by Punjab in Bollywood films since 1940s. But since it’s a wide subject with reference to more than seven decades, hence possibly I may have missed some points or films in the flow of emotions.

Still, I hope ignoring those unintentional left-outs, the effort will be appreciated both in India and abroad by the lovers of Hindi Film Industry, popularly known as Bollywood and the community would soon unite together in order to give the image of Sikhs - a better shape in future.

- Bobby Sing

(Published as a 8 page article in “Indousdialogue Magazine” in its May 2012 issue.)

Tags : BOLLYWOOD & PUNJAB, Punjabi content in Hindi Films, Punjab's friendly creative relationship of seven decades with Bollywood, An overview by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, Articles On Cinema by Bobby Sing, Sikhs in Hindi Films, The Depiction of Sikh characters in Hindi Films, Punjabis in Bollywood, Researched articles on Bollywood.
23 May 2012 / Comment ( 1 )
Hindi films

Akshay Kumar i guess plays the best punjabi roles in films today.

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