I grew up getting reasonably exposed to Punjabi Cinema thanks to the one & only Doordarshan. India’s National broadcaster in the 1980’s especially kept experimenting with content and television slots and movies-Hindi, regional and even International would keep figuring prominently across the same. Starved of any other options for entertainment in those days, kids like me then were more than addicted to Television. A particularly curious movie slot which remained for some time on Doordarshan was on Thursday evenings. This wasn’t a very popular slot and chances are that most people today may not even remember the same unlike that of the Saturday & Sunday evening slots for Hindi films or the Sunday afternoon slot for regional cinema, mostly comprising of award winning films. Incidentally years later after D.D had long withdrawn the Thursday evening movie slot; they went on to introduce a Tuesday afternoon slot as well. But let’s talk about all that some other day, as I must now tell you why I am talking about all this anyways.
Well the Thursday evening movie slot for some reason or the other despite being initially an exclusive slot for Hindi movies later went on to be a slot for a lot of Punjabi films to be shown as well. That’s when I ended up watching many Punjabi films from the 1960’s to the 80’s featuring a variety of actors, most prominent being Dara Singh and Satish Kaul, with popular comedian Meher Mittal being present in many such films. That was also the time when a lot of Hindi actors dabbled in Punjabi Cinema as well, including the big stars like Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna (both of them did a few Punjabi films in the 1970’s) and these films were more or less similar to Hindi films, albeit with lower budgets. If the films had some amount of action then I was all the more happy and for some strange reason I didn’t face a severe language handicap either :).
When tragedy struck Punjab in 1984 following Operation Bluestar and the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’ assassination, I was still a toddler of sorts but vividly remember everyone talking about the issue for months thereafter. Though people like me living in South India then weren’t witness to the large scale sufferings that Punjabis of all faiths were undergoing, we knew that what was happening in Punjab wasn’t right and that if it could happen there then there’s no guarantee that it may not happen anywhere else in the Country. For years the events of 1984 and the following years have gone on to haunt Punjabis, especially those living in the state and while numerous attempts have been made to chronicle the events in various forms, it has always been seen to be a tough task to do so. The reason for the same being simple- how does one take an objective approach to the whole issue and look at laying out the facts/events thread bare, without taking sides, more so when for various reasons you’ve been forced to look at the truth in a unilateral manner.
Hence when I heard of Anurag Singh’s Punjabi film Punjab 1984 I was a little skeptical as I wasn’t sure whether this is just another attempt to cash in by sensationalizing the issue all over again, or whether it will be an attempt to take a holistic view of the scenario and spin it off as a fictional tale. What also surprised me is that the director-actor combination of Anurag Singh and Diljit Dosanjh (who plays the lead in Punjab 1984) have been known for their successful run of romantic comedies like Jatt and Juliet, Jatt and Juliet 2, Disco Singh etc and hence it was a little strange for them to try out something which was a little risky considering their earlier projects. But with the film releasing to a tremendous positive response and a strong word of mouth not just in Punjab, but also in places like Delhi/NCR, Mumbai and overseas, I was quite curious to watch the film.
While I was quite keen on watching it in the very 1st week itself, like I usually do in case of most films, alas that couldn’t happen for various reasons. But I needn’t have worried as the film went on to gain more screens in its 2nd week, something that’s pretty rare for any film, especially a regional film in Mumbai these days. And hence I finally watched Punjab 1984 on a weekday last week and despite the rains there were a handful of others, including people with their families who had come over for the show. Punjab 1984 is one of those films which hardly takes time to get you hooked to the narrative. The film basically revolves around Satwant Kaur (Kirron Kher), who leads a peaceful life with her husband Mann Saab (Gurpreet Channi) and son Shivjeet Singh Mann (Diljit Dosanjh),fondly called as Shiva by his parents and friends. The year is 1984 and while they are seen to be happy in their own World and largely content, unfortunately things just go spiralling one after the other. Mann Saab disappears one day when he’s off to visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar, only for his family to later know that he’s been killed during Operation Bluestar and is being branded as an extremist.
If that wasn’t enough for Shiva and Satwant, there’s more trouble ahead of them as Shiva gets into an altercation with a bad cop, Deep Singh Rana (Pavan Malhotra), who supports Shiva and Mann Saab’s arch enemy who is trying to usurp their land. One fine day Diljit goes missing and Satwant’s life is shattered forever. But Satwant is determined to find out the whereabouts of her son and keeps visiting the local police station every day. What really happened to Shivjeet? Does he return? How does the tale culminate? Well we get to realize all these and more from the rest of the film. Having watched the film I was almost immediately compelled mentally to sit down and pen my thoughts on the film. Unfortunately while that got delayed and despite having watched quite a few films afterwards, I am still thinking of the film even now and that shows that Anurag Singh has certainly left an impact on the audience by making a genuine film in the form of Punjab 1984. Whatever little doubt one had about the genuineness of the film vanishes on watching the film. That is something that immediately comes to mind during the course of the movie itself.
The tale runs through a period of more than 2 years, from 1984 to 1986 and chronicles life in Shivjeet’s household quite realistically. We also realize during the course of the movie and especially with the end credits that Shivjeet and Satwant’s tale mirrors plenty of real life stories, as there are families still struggling to come to terms with the events that rocked their lives nearly 3 decades ago. Anurag Singh has taken care to touch upon a tale that’s extremely sensitive and given it a realistic feel. However this is not at all an offbeat film, far from it in fact. Enough care has been taken to consider commercial expectations in mind and that is reflected in the form of good music (Nick Dhammu, Gurmeet Singh, Jatinder Shah) and the presence of popular yet carefully chosen actors to portray various characters. The art direction in particular is impressive as we are literally transported to a bygone era. Great care has been taken to ensure that the look and feel of the village, the surroundings, the police station and various other places, the buses used etc look genuinely like the mid 1980’s, it’s almost as if time just stood still in those places, when one watches the film.
In terms of performances it’s refreshing to note that the choice of actors has worked out very well, resulting in more or less good performances from almost everyone. Kirron Kher as Satwant Kaur is the soul of the film and she conveys her anguish and dismay over the disappearance of her son extremely well. The scene in the bus when she suddenly breaks out into a prayer shows that given the right role she can still add many dimensions to the character she plays. Diljit Dosanjh as Shivjeet makes a nice transition from the rom-com’s that he is used to and plays the angry youth very well. Thankfully Shivjeet isn’t a character who resorts to loud monologues and jingoistic punch dialogues, given the nature of his role. There is a certain subtleness and maturity that he carries into his role and that helps quite well. Pavan Malhotra as the corrupt and badass cop Deep Singh Rana is wonderful and he once again reminds us that he is one of the best character artistes around these days. So powerful is his portrayal that you can’t but despise his character, and that’s a victory for him and director Anurag Singh.
Sonam Bajwa looks cute and fits the part of Jeeti, Shivjeet’s neighbour and his beloved, though she has nothing much to do. Arun Bali as the political leader with a sinister motive is very natural and the others like Rana Ranbir, Manav Vij, Vansh Bharadwaj also play their parts well. Eventually Punjab 1984 is a film that could be a game changer for Punjabi Cinema. Considering that the film is now in its 3rd week and still doing well at the box office, this is a great example of how one can make a successful film despite not having to compromise and fork out elements owing to “market dynamics”. Kudos to producers Gunbir Singh Sidhu,Manmord Sidhu and Hans Raj Railhan for having the conviction to back a slightly risky film like this. Thankfully their faith in Anurag Singh and the film has paid off with the film becoming a blockbuster. Which way does Punjabi Cinema head from here on is something that we need to wait and watch.
Check out the trailer of the film-