By Guest Blogger: Esha Jaggi
For decades, mainstream Hindi cinema has been unfavorably stereotypical in its portrayal of regional identities. All Bengalis were kurta donning, betel leaf chewing opinionated bespectacled intellectuals. All South Indians were ‘madraasis’ with their knee-length lungis and white tilak on foreheads [remember Mahmood in the comedy hit ‘Padosan’] or even worse, all the Sikhs were portrayed as over-the-top butt-of-all jokes loud mouths spewing ‘Balle Balle’ or ‘Jolly Good’. In most cases, these portrayals were not only frivolous but also interspersed within storylines for much comic relief.
However, somewhere in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a Punjabi renaissance took over the Bollywood film industry. Suddenly the youngest member of the family drama was being referred to as the ‘Puttar’ and the female lead as the ‘Sohni Kudi’. Lyrics of film songs were lined with Punjabi words [‘Shava’, ‘Oye Hoye’ and what not!], which somehow seemed to up the tempo. And this was just the beginning. Punjabi khandaan started taking center stage in most Bollywood films. Today as we stand, nearly 40% of the Bollywood films released thus far have had some kind of Punjabi flavor. Ever wondered how this transcended? Let me take a shot at it.
IT’S ALL IN THE FAMILY!
Bollywood is a Punjabi industry. Stars of the yesteryears – Dev Anand (Lahore), Balraj Sahni (Rawalpindi), Rajendra Kumar (Sialkot), IS Johar (Chakwal), Sunil Dutt (Jhelum), Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Suresh Oberoi (Quetta), Composer Roshan, father of Rakesh Roshan and grandfather of (Gujranwala) came from various parts of pre-partition Punjab. Jeetendra, Premnath and Prem Chopra were all Punjabis. Even artsy Indian cinema makers are so called Punjus – Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.
Amongst the most successful producers of films in the Hindi film industry were BR Chopra, Yash Chopra and Yash Johar and by familial extension Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, who coincidentally are all Punjabis. The Kapoor family, now in its 4th generation with the likes of Kareena, Karisma and Ranbir, is one of the most respected film families, and are Punjabis. Then there is the other Kapoor family with Boney, Anil and Sanjay and their offsprings Sonam and Arjun Kapoor. The Deols, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan too and the list goes on and on. They brought their own Punjabi sensibilities and their understanding of the Punjabi milieu to their movies.
The Indian film industry is divided into regional areas including the southern and eastern regions having their own strong film industries and local audiences. Meanwhile the Bollywood industry largely serves the northern territories, which includes Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and other areas quite steeped in Punjabi influence. Hence, a lot of plot lines nowadays reflect the lifestyle of people in Delhi [from the extravagant Mehras of ‘Dil Dhadakane Do’ to the humble Vicky Arora from ‘Vicky Donor’]. Thus making Hindi films seem more relatable to the Bollywood northern audiences by showcasing and sometimes exaggerating the finer nuances of Punjabi culture.
MONEY MONEY MONEY!
Apart from the Punjabi population in India, a huge percentage of the Indian diaspora settled outside India in Pakistan, Canada, USA and UK are also Punjabis. And there is a lot of revenue to be earned by catering to this market. Glorifying Punjabi culture is the easiest way to attract Punjabi audiences and drive ticket sales. It all started when Aditya Chopra decided to show a Punjabi family settled in UK in the 1995 blockbuster ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ and that set the cash registers ringing at the box office. Everybody else seemed to have followed suit.
NORTH SOUTH EAST OR WEST – PUNJABIS ARE THE BEST!
Punjabis are seen as a fun-loving, emotionally charged, large-hearted community with strong family ties. Adding a lot of joie de vivre to every aspect of their lives be it marriages, love, work, etc., they strike a chord with audiences who watch movies as an escape from their routine lives. The biggest impact of Punjabi influence has been seen in Bollywood songs. When the Punjabi beats and lyrics merge seamlessly into Hindi and English, you have a new fusion sound that sets dance floors vibrating. Not many outside of North India would know what the lyrics mean, but when ‘Mauja Hi Mauja’ [Jab We Met] or ‘Shava Shava, Mahiya’ [Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham] blare from the speakers, your shoulders automatically start shrugging to the seductive beat of Punjabi pop and Bhangra takes over.
Hindi commercial cinema has mostly been about larger than life, exuberant and vivacious film stories and Punjabi culture is the most classic illustration of it. With the success of several lately released films with Punjabi themes [‘Band Bajaa Baraat, ‘Love Aaj Kal’, ‘Son of Sardar’, etc] Bollywood’s love affair with Punjab won’t be over anytime soon.
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