‘Guns, guts, glory’, Punjabis don’t want this stereotype

The murder of hip-hop artist Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, better known as Sidhu Moosewala, has raged a storm on social media. The 28-year-old singer who released around 60 singles in his career of five years, and seldom managed to stay away from controversy, including court cases when in 2020, he was booked for firing at a police range, and his song ‘Sanju’.

Everyone suddenly wants to perform a postmortem on his work — how it has become representational of every vice the contemporary Punjabi entertainment industry is plagued with, how he was the true representative of the ‘street culture’ or how he had foretold his own death. But more importantly, the singer’s death, who had more than eight million followers on Instagram and more than a million on Facebook has again ignited a debate in Punjab on the relationship between guns, masculinity, patriarchy and the display of wealth in the this region’s society plagued by multiple fault lines.

Sociologist Rajesh Gill feels that so immense is the popularity of such songs, that even established singers have had to change paths and joined the bandwagon, something she says much about the audience’s taste here. “Why are we blaming the singers and filmmakers alone for such lyrics, videos and content? It has become virtually impossible for them to survive in the music industry if their numbers do not have the combination of guns, machismo, alcohol and girls. In fact, several women singers who have come up in Punjab are toeing the line. This surprises me no end. But we surely need to look at ourselves. Why is there such a huge digestive ability when it comes to violence and glorification of the gang culture? Yes, people do seem to be getting a huge kick by this kind of content. But then, Punjab has always been a patriarchal society, obsessed with masculinity. The audience loves it, from both genders…”

Stressing that the glorification of weapons in Moosewala’s work should be seen just as a tool, like many other elements that he uses in his video renditions, theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry, recipient of the Padma Shri honour, says that it is important not to see everything with an urban lens.

“That cannot be the gauge. We are talking about a very different space here. Now you also have a major Sikh religious leader saying that every Sikh should have a licensed weapon. In pastoral societies, weapons have always been integral. Also, when filmmaker Quentin Tarantino uses violence, it becomes an artistic tool and metaphor, and when Moosewala’s videos do that, it is glorification? I have been seeing his work ever since the news came in, and for me, what is most striking is the fact that he was talking about death in his work as if he had a premonition — the images of pyres and coffins…”

Adding that it is convenient for the mainstream media to ‘slot’ an entire region’s entertainment industry in a binary, the Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee adds: “What about the numerous films and serials on gangsters from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan? Why not look at all layers and contrasts. Anyway, it was such a gross error by the ruling state government to publicise the fact that his security had been withdrawn.”

Documentary filmmaker Daljit Ami, who frequently writes on different facets of the Punjabi society in national and international publications opines that he does not see much difference between the Punjabi entertainment industry and those from other regions when it comes to violence.

“This debate will forever go on — violence, drugs, the portrayal of women, the culture of display. Every major movement anywhere has been against vulgar display, be it the Sufi or Bhakti movements. But in every society, those of an impressionable age do get

fascinated. Also, are mainstream South Indian films any different? While we may consider someone wearing a dhoti very cultured, out there, they fight wearing that. The scale and mode of violence may be different. This debate in Punjab takes place every time with a new set of people. But every society has to go through its basic streaks. New media has definitely added to the volume. Now you have Facebook and Twitter to amplify everything. Let us not forget that in one stroke, violence brings a spectacle, it becomes a facade of the society owing to that very spectacle. Precisely why the tendency to call it representative. That is the reason that serious filmmakers like Anup Singh, Gurvinder Singh, Jatinder Mauhar and Rajeev Kumar will never be asserted as ‘representatives’ of Punjab. It is only those who succeed in bringing a spectacle, no matter how gory become that (‘representatives’).”

For National award-winning filmmaker Rajeev Kumar, Moosewala’s death is extremely tragic and unfortunate, but he questions: “When you promote violence, how do you justify that it does not happen to you, or someone else? Also, what is the justification for glorifying gangsters who may be one cent in society? Why not the 10 per cent who are struggling to bring a change? So, it ultimately boils down to money because talking about that one per cent attracts people, right? I fail to understand the reason we are criticising the government’s move to take back his security and that of many others? Of course, the fact should not have been publicised, and there are many other issues for which the state government should be questioned. But all these rich artists can easily afford private security, just like celebrities do across the world.”

During the height of militancy in Punjab in 1988, another Punjabi singer and lyricist Chamkila was gunned down by Khalistani militants in Mehsampur. His work was influenced by the Punjabi rural life and he commonly wrote songs about extra-marital relationships, coming of age, drinking drug use, and the volatile temper of Punjabi men. His detractors regarded his music as obscene.

Filmmaker Kabir Singh Chowdhry made an award-winning film titled ‘Mehsampur’ revolving around an independent filmmaker travelling through the heart of Punjab to make a documentary on Chamkila.

He tells IANS: “Moosewala’s death is tragic to the core. Such a prolific young man who ascertained a livelihood for a large number of people. He did not divorce his roots. Despite being such a success, he stayed in his village and did not shift to Mumbai, Delhi or Chandigarh. So many people are doing rap, but his level was just different. As far as all the talk about the Punjabi entertainment industry goes, Punjabi songs have become so mainstream and almost integral to the Hindi film industry that everyone loves having a debate and passing sweeping statements.”




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