By Bhavna Malik
New Delhi, January 17: Sandeep Reddy Wanga and Ranbir Kapoor set new records for film makers, breaking barriers between South and Bollywood Industry, further adding Punjabi folk tadka with the hit number ‘Arjan Vailli’.
Animal film invited extreme reactions from Bollywood trade pundits, viewers and women rights activists as the film objectified women fanning the misogynist sentiment and normalising violence.
Talking of the song ‘Arjan Vailli’ there seems to be distortion of sikh history. Vailli word is common in the region of Punjab having both a negative and positive connotations as ‘Jat vailli’, ‘yaar vailli’ and it mostly refers to the person who moves with an attitude of ‘don’t mess with me’.
‘Vaar’ on the other hand is a song of bravery and is often sung in the praise of a warrior and Sikh history is full of values and valour. The Sikh Gurus right from Guru Nanak Dev till the 10th Guru Gobind Singh fought the oppression of the Mughals, sacrificed their lives to protect the freedom of the citizens, justice, diversity and honour of the women. Historically, Sikhs carry the DNA of bravery, fighting injustice, not mindless killings to satisfy their ego.
The song Arjan Vailli, sung in the ‘Dhaadi vaar’ style, revolves around Arjan, the son of Hari Singh Nalwa, the great sikh warrior, who was a commander in chief in the Khalsa army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was the bravery of Hari Singh Nalwa that led to the rise of Khalsa Raj which ruled till Afghanistan. Nalwa means a tiger and legend says that Hari Singh killed a tiger at a very young age hence the title Nalwa is added to his name. Arjan Singh Nalwa, his son too was known for his valiant attitude who fought against suppression and injustice.
Using Arjan Vailli song and Sikh actors in the film clearly points out that Hindi film industry once again has used/abused Punjab, its issues and glorious history to its advantage and also distorting it for its own benefit.
The portrayal of the song moves around the theme of revenge but Sikh history and the wars fought by them were never offensive rather defensive. The film normalises violence whereas Sikh Gurus believed in peaceful and just society.
The ‘Khalsa’ comes from the word ‘Khalis’, the Pure which can be a man or women who fights both – the inner demons and also outer oppression. The 5th Guru Arjan Dev, the 9th Guru Tegh Bahadar, the 10th Guru Gobind Singh along with his four sons – Ajit Singh, Jujhar Singh, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh revered as the ‘char Sahibzadas’ attained martyrdom not to protect their community but the Hindus who were under the threat of being converted to Islam.
Creative liberty of Bollywood, once again stands exposed through the portrayal of the song ‘Arjan Vailli’ as Sikh characters in Hindi films are merely for comic relief coming out as second leads playing the role of a Dhaba wallah, a mechanic, a taxi, auto driver, or a security guard. The other extreme position of Bollywood is showing Sikh characters as drug addicts as in the film ‘Udta Punjab’ or as Khalistanis as in the film Maachis.
Right from the ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, actor Dharmendra, his sons Sunny and Bobby Deol had to let go of their Sikh identity to join the Bollywood bandwagon. Never a turbaned Sikh lands up playing a lead role in Hindi films.
Well defined Sikh characters can be counted on finger tips. Border movie had Sikh army officers, movies based on the life of Bhagat Singh have Sikh characters otherwise child artist as a sardar in the film Kuch Kuch hota hai’ was shown merely staring at the stars not adding any value to the plot, also the recent movie Girl Friend part 1 and 2 by Ekta Kapoor has a Sikh character as a cameo and the second lead with no meaningful dialogues for him.
Arjan Vailli song comes as a wakeup call for the entire Punjabi community and the Sikhs in particular. The Punjabi movie industry must find their voice to change the narrative of this ridicule and belittling and come out with novel themes and issues concerning Punjab and Sikh psyche.
It is observed that the portrayal of a Jat in the new Punjabi films is of a cameo and zeroed in to the theme of him being crazy for marriage and women lead in the Punjabi films are only to add a glamour with no meaningful character development. No doubt generations cannot live in the past but can surely be guided by the glorious past and come out with intelligent characters claiming their rightful place in the celluloid. Karan Johar in his recent interview said that “cinema is about two things culture and economy”. Economy is tasted by all its time culture gets its due.
Punjab and Sikhs stand out not just for food, bhangra and gidha rather Punjab is an idea, an emotion to be experienced and Sikh psyche is a consciousness that weaves humanity into the threads of love, peace and harmony.
(Author is a Delhi-based journalist, pursuing Doctorate from Punjabi university Patiala on the topic of ‘Life skills in Guru Granth Sahib and Buddhism’)