Bollywood Failed Punjabi Culture

Bollywood has been appropriating Punjabi culture since the dawn of time. From the obscenely childish caricature molded by the Hindu majority.

First and foremost, there is a stark difference between Punjabi and Hindu cultures. Punjabi cultures speak Punjabi but may write the language in different scriptures such as Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi. The Hindu culture may seem similar, but its people speak Hindi and read and write in Hindi as well. This is not to say that the cultures may not have borrowed certain things from one another, it’s just that, historically, the Punjabi culture has had more influence over the Hindu culture.

I am by no means referring to the Hindu community as a whole, but the Bollywood movie industry consists of a Hindu majority. The distinction between Hindu people as people of a culture and Hindu people by religion is also important in this context. I am not referring to those of the Hindu religion but that of the culture. It just so happens that people who tend to be Hindu by religion are Hindu by culture. Similarly, Punjabi people can be Hindu, Sikh, Christian – whichever religion you can think of.

Punjabi is not a religion but a culture. However, Sikh people and aspects of their way of life have been incorporated into the Punjabi culture so much that Sikh people are almost seen as synonymous with Punjabiyat or Punjabi culture.

Remakes of Punjabi Music

While we can’t imagine what a remake of Drake, Beyonce or whatever fan favourite English-speaking musician would do to people, the remakes of many Punjabi hits and timeless songs has been stirring the pot for quite some time.

Remakes of songs such as Mukhda Dekh De by the Late Surjit Bindrakhia was remade in Hindi for a new Bollywood movie. Any Bhangra dancers will agree with me on this one when I say Bollywood absolutely ruined the song in their remake.

Bollywood even went and destroyed Laung Laachi by Mannat Toor that took the South Asian world by a storm. In the new version created by the movie industry, the song loses its sass and uniqueness, like a watered down shot you’d get at a cheap hotel bar.

Appreciating old time classics is drastically different than taking the musical parts of a culture and redoing it to suit your needs and your own culture. I’m not going out there and singing Single Ladies in Punjabi, now am I?

TV Shows

Representation matters, and how you are portrayed onscreen can become extremely muddled with your view of yourself. Hindi television shows often portray Punjabi families and people in general as boisterous drunkards who are aggressive when provoked – yet they STILL speak Hindi. While I understand that there may be some descendants of Punjabi people who may have settled in places like Delhi or Goa in India who speak Hindi, it does NOT excuse the lack of actual Punjabi speaking actors to play roles in which the characters are supposed to be ACTUAL Punjabi speakers.

In TV shows like Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, Chhoti Sardarni, we get characters who do not represent the Punjabi culture well. Don’t even get me STARTED on how problematic Chhoti Sardarni is. The entire cast is supposed to be a family of Punjabi speaking Sikhs.

You would not cast me for the role of Scottish girl onscreen, so why is this acceptable?

The Representation Itself

Right off the bat, Bollywood should either cast Punjabi people for Punjabi characters or stay away from it as a whole. Films like Singh Is Kinng, Son of Sardaar and older movies like Sangharsh represent Punjabiyat (the Punjabi culture) and Sikhi through misuses of symbols and important slogans. Sikh people are also often represented as terrorists in some Bollywood movies.

Actors like Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar and many others have played roles of Punjabi Sikhs that have not been accurate or helpful to the image of the culture. These actors have never claimed to be Sikh nor Punjabi. Why should the Punjabi and/or Sikh population settle for misrepresentation when there is so much talent in the Punjabi movie industry?

Music, food, clothing and languages are key parts of any culture. If you take that away from them, what part of the culture would be left? These aspects of a culture unify its people. Watering it down and “remaking” parts of it sends a message to the people of that culture that it was not good enough to begin with. This is a horrifying and sad message to get as members of a culture.

Punjabi people, especially Sikh Punjabis, already have a history of sacrifice, mistreatment and erasure to deal with. Bollywood is only expediting this erasure through its actions which needs to stop.

Religious and cultural minorities are not the mainstream majority’s play toy. Neither is it the government’s but that is a topic for another discussion.