Fresh imprint to Punjabi films
Courtesy: The Hindu
A society is considered mature when it gathers the courage to look within. So when Punjabi film industry, often described as Pollywood, the poor cousin of Bollywood got wings courtesy a flurry of romantic comedies one wondered when will we get to watch a Punjabi film which will dare to look at real issues that confront the State. Recently, cutting through the Jatt juggernaut, “Punjab: 1984” managed to confront the ghosts of the past. The poignant tale of a mother’s search for her son during insurgency, the period film proved that Punjabi cinema has more emotions than just a sense of humour and that the fledgling industry can express itself with technical finesse. Released in the last week of June, the film held its own in front of Bollywood biggies and continues to win praise from critics.
Director Anurag Singh says the Punjabi film industry has found its feet only in the last three-four years. “I had this subject in mind even before “Jatt and Julliet” but I didn’t have the confidence to tackle the issue. As the people who saw Operation Bluestar are still alive, I apprehended whether I will be able to do justice to their memories. I didn’t want the film to sound manipulative or get into the politics of the issue. The aim was to humanise the problem and it is the mother and children who suffer the most during any insurgency.” Also, Anurag adds, the market was not ripe to fund such a subject. “I had to prove myself in the popular idiom to get funds for a serious subject,” says the young filmmaker, who delivered two successful instalments of “Jatt And Julliet” at the box office.
Pavan Malhotra who plays an important role in “Punjab: 1984” says Punjabis don’t like to open their wounds for public scrutiny and perhaps that’s why we don’t find the reflection of 1984 in the films more often. “Punjabis love to laugh at themselves but history tells us that after every fourth generation Punjabis have to start afresh. We have braved invaders but have survived to tell our stories. When people identify us with crude humour, I tell them the most telling romantic epics are written in this part of the world.”
Punjabi cinema has a rich history but consistency has never been its strong point because it was largely driven by filmmakers who could not find their feet in Bollywood or big names of Hindi film industry who wanted to do something for the community as a charity. So we have had a big hit here, a National Award winning film there and long periods of lull in between.
After a decade of insurgency, director Manmohan Singh brought the audience back to theatres with his romantic tales with a social message. “I started a dialogue between the NRIs and their families left in Punjab. Both had little idea about each others’ lives and issues and my film opened a window on them,” says Singh. The trusted cinematographer of Yash Chopra, brought his mentor’s vision alive in Punjabi films with films like “Jee Aaya Nu”, “Dil Apna Punjabi” and “Munde U.K. De”. “It is not that good films were not made in Punjabi before but they used to be one-off projects where some actors of Punjabi origin used to take time out from their Bollywood commitments for the sake of giving good cinema to the community,” says Singh referring to films like “Chhann Pardesi”, which he shot.
With Singh showing total commitment, consistency and professionalism found its way in the industry and Anurag admits the young generation is reaping the harvest of seeds sown by Singh and singer-actor Gurdas Maan. “The look and tone of the films changed. Before that Punjabi films were known to be loud and addressing only a kind of rural audience. With “Jee Aaya Nu”, the urban audience started believing in their cinema,” reflects Anurag.
Singh cautions that industry should not get carried away with the trend of romantic comedy. “Regional cinema can stay relevant only when it stays true to its social moorings,” says Singh, now working on the sequel of “Munde U.K. De”.
The increase in budgets and reach has given the Punjabi films some muscle to flex. “Now spending Rs.5 to 8 crores on a film is fairly common and we are releasing films with 150 to 175 prints,” says Anurag. “This time we are planning to release the film in territories like Kolkata and smaller centres like Indore which have not been tapped before,” says Singh. Malhotra says the producer had put just one advertisement of “Punjab 1984” but it managed good response for two weeks at Cinemax in Mumbai’s Andheri area which is not considered as a hotspot for Punjabi films. “This shows that the film managed to cross the language barrier.” He doesn’t know what the success of “Punjab: 1984” will hold for the industry but with a Punjabi film releasing every week, Anurag says, the filmmakers are looking for newer subjects. In fact the backdrop of militancy has been raised in films like “Sadda Haq” and “1947 To 1984” but since their presentation was not worthy of national appeal they were not noticed. And the subjects are not always a copy of Bollywood. Gippy Grewal’s “Mirza” played out like a Hollywood thriller with a healthy use of silence, a rarity in Punjabi films.
The lack of acting talent is often cited as a limitation but with singer-actors like Dilji Dosanjh and Gippy Grewal finding acceptance and with Jimmy Shergill making his presence felt on home turf, the industry looks in safe hands. Pavan says when a Hindi film actor shows multiple facets we call him versatile but when a Punjabi singer, acts we call it lack of talent in the industry. “Diljit Dosanjh is known for his comic timing but in “Punjab:1984” he has done the emotional scenes with equal felicity. He gave a layered performance.”
Anurag doesn’t see the domination of Jatt comedies as a reflection of caste identity. “To me Jatt stands for a simpleton farmer who gets into a situation. Producers have bought remaking rights of “Jatt And Juliette” in five languages including Tamil and Telugu. They must have seen something in film that is not region and caste-centric. However, because of sloppy execution and the greed to cash in on the success of some films it does look deliberate.”
Meanwhile, there is another side to this surge. Amidst the craze to place Jatt in an exotic setting with titles like “Jatt James Bond” and “Jatt Airways”, the filmmakers have yet to come to terms with ground realities. Gurvinder Singh’s “Anhey Gorhey Da Daan” which won multiple National Awards in 2012 deals with the rural working class and the plight of Dalit Sikhs in Bhatinda belt of the State but it is dubbed as niche for an audience which is not considered to be experimental.
“It is good that filmmakers are addressing some serious issues as well but I don’t see them moving beyond the concerns of upper class or issues that bind the whole Punjabi community. The funding of these films is coming from upper caste NRIs or local businessmen and I don’t think they are interested in subaltern identity. If you have to look beyond the masochist agenda, you have to ask for state funding or look for foreign funds. This is how “Anhey” got made,” says Gurvinder, who is also tackling two incidents during insurgency for his next film. “I could see the discomfort on the face of local Jats when I showed the film in Toronto Film Festival and the village where it was shot but the irony is many Punjabis find it exotic even when it deals with issues that are very local in nature.”
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