Gurbir Singh Grewal. HT Photo
There is a lot of talk about the boom in Punjabi cinema, but going through the statistics of films released last year, the picture seems contrary to the belief. The total number of Punjabi films released in 2012 was 24, of which two were super hits (Jatt & Juliet and Carry on Jatta), about four did above-average business, and the rest suffered losses. So, the success rate comes out to be less than 25%.
Reasons for the success and failure of a film are many; if there was a known success formula, then perhaps no movie would ever fail at the box office. In reality, Punjabi cinema is passing through a crucial phase; barring a few, most films belong to one genre: slapstick/situational comedy. Some films released recently were really good and enjoyable, whereas others forced you to believe that Punjab has no literature, history, culture or social issues. For overall growth of regional cinema, one needs films of different genres that thematically belong to the region.
When we look across at the regional cinema of other states such as West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala, Assam or even Maharashtra, the content of our films stands nowhere. The main reason for this qualitative degeneration is a lack of governmental or for that matter any institutional support to alternative cinema.
We don’t expect the present lot of financiers of Punjabi movies to invest in alternative cinema. They are there to make money; least realising that the success ratio is very low even in that genre of cinema. Another myth that most people live with is that offbeat cinema is not commercially viable.
Repeatedly, makers have shown that offbeat cinema is commercially workable, else Hindi films such as A Wednesday, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Vicky Donor, Paan Singh Tomar or Kahaani wouldn’t have worked. The single most important factor that makes a film work is its treatment. Making a film on a piece of great literature and putting the audience to sleep is by no means creativity. Cinema is a mass medium where common audience must enjoy the story telling, and there is no dearth of such literature in Punjabi.
If there is any lack, it is of financiers who only want to invest in and make money out of movies, which have the same set of actors doling out double meaning dialogues in the name of comedy. There was only one filmmaker, late Jaspal Bhatti who understood the power of comedy and it’s application to highlight social issues.
Let me not just blame others, even I was guilty of jumping on this bandwagon, only to realise after having burnt my fingers that this is not my cup of tea. After having made Punjabi TV serials such as Eho Hamara Jeevna, Neem Ka Ped, Akhiyan Ton Door Jayeen Na and a film like Mannat, I should not have entered this race. I should rather do something where I feel comfortable, such as literature, history or social issues of Punjab. Things are easier said than done; since financiers do not want to put money in these films and distributors do not even wish to see their show reels. There are, in fact, a few of such movies awaiting release for want of theatres.
Trend of singer-actors in Punjabi movies has its own plus and minus points. No other state has had as many singers as Punjab. Some singers are reasonably good actors, and their success has made other singers believe that being a singer is akin to being a good actor. And so, all those who were making music videos earlier are now into making films. Under such circumstances, it is very difficult to even think of serious cinema. Go to any financier and the first question we are asked is: ‘Kehda singer hai' (Which singer is your hero?), no one has ever asked what the subject or story of the film is.
This is a competitive world, if you leave a powerful medium like cinema open, someone is bound to fill up the vacant place. Intelligentsia prefers to skip films and discuss the vitiating taste of people in closed-door meetings and seminars. If any change is expected in Punjabi cinema, then it needs their active participation by accepting cinema as art and most powerful medium of communication, mere criticism will not serve the cause.