The dominant communities of Bollywood are two: the Urdu-speakers of North India and, above all, the Punjabi's .
A quick demonstration. Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are the three current superstars. All three are Urdu-speakers. In the second rung we have Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor and Ajay Devgan. Of these, Hrithik, Ajay and Akshay are Punjabi while Saif is Urdu-speaking. Shahid Kapoor, as his name suggests, is half-Punjabi and half-Urdu-speaking.
Bollywood is a Punjabi industry. We have Dev Anand of Lahore, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, IS Johar of Chakwal, Jeetendra, Premnath, Prem Chopra, Anil Kapoor and Dharmendra who are all Punjabis. Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Suresh Oberoi of Quetta, and all their star kids are Punjabis. Composer Roshan (father of Rakesh and grandfather of Hrithik) was from Gujranwala.
A turbaned Saif Ali Khan promises himself that the pretty girl he's wooing will be his 'votti' someday in Love Aaj Kal. Rani Mukherji engages in a loud Punjabilish conversation with Shahid Kapoor on a truck in Dil Bole Hadippa. Just as the Rajs and Simrans before them cooed to pigeons in mustard fields, dutifully applied mehendi, observed karva chauth and did the bhangra.
Is Punjab the only state in north India? Nope. Do all Indians speak fluent Punjabi? Well, thanks to Raj and his ilk, we've come to learn what 'praah', 'soniye' and 'makhna' mean. What is with Bollywood's obsession with the state, considering that so many of its actors don't even come from there?
Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali (director, Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal), says it isn't a conscious decision. "When I thought up Geet (Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met), I wanted her to be a Rajasthani. I had envisioned the whole travel sequence in which Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) takes her home to Rajasthan. But the exuberance of her character and the madness of her family lent itself to Punjab," he explains.
He cites the same reason for Khan's Sardar act in Love Aaj Kal, "Saif's character is of the guy who moves to the UK with nothing and makes a name for himself through honest means. In my experience, people in London who've come up the right way are usually Punjabi." Ali adds that since Khan plays a double role, having him don a turban physically distinguished the characters. The filmmaker believes that the 'Punjabi' overdose in the industry is because most of the industry is from the state.
Film critic Deepa Gahlot agrees. "After Partition, several of the Punjabi filmmakers moved to India from Lahore. The Chopras, the Sippys, the Kapoors, are all Punjabis. It's obvious that they will make movies about what they know. It's just that earlier, the hero-heroine never had a last name. It was only a Vijay, which vaguely suggested of North Indian roots." Gahlot also feels that the huge NRI market, which thrives on bhangra and Punjabi-infused dialogue, is a factor.
Film critic and author Anupama Chopra, who calls the phenomenon the 'Punjabification' of Bollywood, says, "Hindi films are larger than life, robust... they're all about vivaciousness and masti which is the classic Punjab stereotype. Punjab and Bollywood are a perfect fit."
The NDTV film reviewer points out that other cultures have been explored in films, depending on their makers. "Sanjay Leela Bhansali portrayed Gujarat beautifully in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Sooraj Barjatya has a different approach in his family movies." According to her, several filmmakers ape the Chopras because their films work. "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge inspired tons of clones," she says.
Ramnath doesn't think so "The obsession will not end as long as we have audiences in Queens and Southhall cheering on such films. I fear that by forcing audiences to learn basic Punjabi, we will never see the end of this obsession. I have no problem with Punjabi-Hindi movies. I only wish we were as open to making films in Hindi about other communities."
Yash Raj Films, that has presented the northern state as such a glittering pretty package, doesn't argue or defend. Rafeeq Gangjee, VP, Marketing and Communications, simply states, "Not just Punjab, even Switzerland has come to represent India within the context of the Hindi film industry! At the end of the day, the use of any imagery only makes cinematic sense if it fits into the overall context and the script.
"Years of association and usage of the farmlands of Punjab and the stereotype opulent Punjabi farmer may have been instrumental in this region, symbolising the archetypical rural India. Just as much as, unfortunately, Dharavi and poverty have come to symbolise urban India." Touche!
You know you're being Punjabied when you hear:
>>'Tu te mera praah hai!'
>>'Tussi jaa rahe ho? Tussi na jaao'
>>'Mainu twaade naal gal karni he'
>>'Inna changa munda hai'
>>'Sunn puttar... dekh puttar... kii hoyya?'
Top five Punjabi-Hindi films
>>Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge
>>Jab We Met
>>Singh Is Kinng
>>Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi