Flipping through the newspaper one morning, an advertisement caught my eye. A local PVR cinema was screening Punjabi film 'Anhe Ghorey Da Daan', though for a limited number of shows. I had been looking in vain for a DVD of this film for months.
After all, it's not everyday that a novel by a Jnanpith award-winning writer (Gurdial Singh) is made into a film that goes on to win three national awards. It's also the first Punjabi film to be screened at the Venice film festival, where it won the special jury award, besides an award at the Abu Dhabi film festival.
I landed at the PVR all excited, only to find just eight people, including me, in the theatre in our bustling city of Ludhiana. The biggest crowd-pullers were two Punjabi blockbusters, 'Jatt and Juliet' and 'Carry on Jatta', despite their casteist titles.
Agreed, 'Anhe Ghorey Da Daan' did not have any bhangra number, wedding scene or dramatic acting (the actors did not even wear makeup). This is not everybody's idea of entertainment, but surely we can watch a meaningful film at least once in a decade. I do not mind escapist fiction, but I do mind when Punjabi culture is repeatedly shown in bad light in popular cinema.
Consider popular films such as 'Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya' and 'Yamla, Pagla, Deewana'. These depict Punjabis as boisterous people, booze flows freely in homes, every household owns a gun, young men take pride in driving their SUVs rashly and their only aim is to woo a girl by hook or (largely) by crook. The language revolves around 'bandookan', 'gandase', 'chak de', 'wad de' etc. Yes, these are comic capers full of laughs and gigs, but is this what we want our kids to watch all the time?
Gurdial Singh has rightly observed that we have a lot of Punjabi films, but nothing in the name of serious cinema. 'Anhe Ghorey Da Daan' is an excellent attempt to introduce the urban elite to the real Punjab, which is far removed from swanky malls, palatial farmhouses, luxury cars or even mustard fields of Yash Raj films.
The harsh realities of rural life in Punjab haunted me as they unfolded in front of my eyes while I was sitting in the cool comfort of a PVR. The plight of struggling masses suffering subordination for generations, the simmering discontent on the faces of characters, the plight of workers in both rural and urban areas have been skilfully depicted by director Gurvinder Singh.
But who wants to watch this bland stuff? The daily struggle of the underprivileged surely pale before popular numbers such as 'Nee Sweety phone taan chak liya kar' or 'Pooja kivein aa'. Is this the same land that has been enriched by the Gurus, Waris Shah, Sheikh Farid, Bulle Shah, Bhai Veer Singh, Dhani Ram Chatrik, Faiz, Amrita Pritam, Prof Mohan Singh, Shiv Batalvi, Paash, Surjit Patar, to name a few? The choice is ours as to what kind of heritage we want our children to inherit.