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Monday, July 4, 2022

When Punjab's gangs of mediocrity shoot straight at the cultural landscape

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By Sukant Deepak
New Delhi, June 4 (Ajit Weekly News) ‘Gangster Yaar, ‘Gangster Munde, ‘Gangster Jatt, ‘Gangster-Devil, ‘Gangsta, ‘Gangsta Blood, ‘Gangster Scene, ‘Gangster Look, ‘Love of Gangster, ‘Fake Gangster, ‘Gangster Yaar Kudhe, ‘Gangster vs Jatt, ‘Mafia Style, ‘Black Window Gangster — just some of the hit Punjabi songs…

Sidhu Moosewala’s (Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu) murder has reignited multiple debates — gun violence, glorification of arms, security for celebrities and the role of Punjab’s mainstream entertainment industry in propagating not just violence, but also deepening caste divides.

Of course, they will all die down in a few days.

While Moosewala’s death is unfortunate and the conversation on social media that he “almost invited” such an end is downright crude, it is paramount to understand that he was not a martyr.

The best tribute to Moosewala would be to acknowledge that he was a popular artiste whose numbers had a sizeable audience in Punjab and among the diaspora abroad.

Moosewala and many of his contemporaries, despite the aggressive branding to be a representative of everything that is Punjabi subaltern, are completely misplaced. Many mainstream Punjabi songs for the past several years are mostly about an imagined Jatt (read upper class) pride, violence as an accepted norm, toxic masculinity, objectification of women and celebrating intoxicants.

Anybody who has a slightly deeper idea of Punjab, or even reads, understands that the state cannot be viewed through a Yash Chopra lens. Its countryside is not just about beautiful fields, but also extreme oppression when it comes to Dalits and daily-wage labourers.

The series ‘Paatal Lok’ truthfully acknowledged that no wonder cases were filed against the makers. A deep casteist society that will refuse to accept its faultlines. And if you point that out, either you are an ‘outsider’ (despite being a Punjabi), or have no ‘pride in your roots’.

Yes, a set of extremely touched people continue to believe that fantastic folk tales are still playing out in the year 2022.

Several sociologists have pointed out an increasingly drastic change among many Punjabis — selling farmlands in Punjab and moving to posh Chandigarh. A high unemployment rate is accompanied by abundant disposable income.

It is no surprise then that negotiating the famed ‘Geri Route’ in Chandigarh is almost impossible when girls’ colleges are functioning. This surface living does not really precipitate worthlessness, but sadly pride.

Also, contemporary Punjabi singers, judging by the number of songs that revolve around gangsters, they seem to be some kind of idols for the former.

Surprisingly, the past decade-and-a-half have seen a mushrooming of university-educated students turning into major gangsters. Some from Panjab University, Chandigarh, include Lawrence Bishnoi, Sampat Nehra, Inderjeet Singh Perry, Gurlal Brar and Dilpreet Berry.

The UT of Chandigarh, sandwiched between Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, has over the years emerged as a major base for gangsters. There is no dearth of accommodation, or contacts (as they studied here), and it’s a modern city with an active nightlife.

Capital for both Haryana and Punjab, it serves as a perfect location for gangsters from this region, whose reach is said to extend till Rajasthan and UP, not to mention politicians who spot them early during their student years.

It is an open secret that many singers regularly get extortion calls from gangsters, and several are promised ‘security’ too.

The argument regarding the need to carry firearms for the security of farmlands, considering it is a pastoral society, falls quite flat considering the increasing number of requests for the same from those residing in urban areas.

Data show that there are 3,90,275 active licensed weapons in the state.

The state’s mainstream entertainment industry is increasingly getting toxic with the cocktail of the vulgar display, links with gangsters, and complete alienation from social and political realities… It does not really have to look far for inspiration.

If gangster films are being made with neck-break speed, there also exist some sensitive filmmakers, many of who have made a mark internationally — Gurvinder Singh, Anup Singh, Jatinder Mauhar and Rajeev Kumar. Many singers too composed songs during major movements like the farmers’ agitation.

The answer does not lie in banning or having a censor board for Punjabi songs and movies as was proposed a few years back. Banning must be banned in evolved societies.

The answer, if any exists, must come organically from the Punjabi society — and that is when it will truly become great.

–Ajit Weekly News

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