Punjabi Cinema: A Global Phenomenon Driven by Diaspora’s Passion

by Manjari Singh

In the world of cinema, where language barriers are increasingly becoming inconsequential, the success of Punjabi film ‘Mastaney’ in Seoul, South Korea, this September sent shockwaves through the industry. The question on everyone’s mind was, had the Koreans suddenly developed a taste for Punjabi language movies? The answer, as it turns out, is a testament to the enduring power of the Punjabi diaspora.

Punjabi cinema has been steadily conquering international markets for quite some time. It all began with cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Manmohan Singh’s groundbreaking film ‘Jee Aayan Nu.’ This film showcased a Punjab that was far removed from the typical portrayals of gandase (villages), ghode (horses), and daku (bandits). Instead, it presented a Punjab with lavish farmhouses adorned with swimming pools and modern luxury. Viewers, especially those living abroad, were captivated by this fresh perspective.

Manmohan Singh’s adept direction and the novelty factor of ‘Jee Aayan Nu’ contributed to its worldwide success. Prolific actor Gurpreet Ghuggi, a key figure in ‘Mastaney,’ recalls how this film shattered stereotypes and resonated with international audiences.

Munish Sahni, a distributor and producer of many hit Punjabi movies, emphasizes that the recent surge in overseas demand for Punjabi films is remarkable. ‘Mastaney,’ for instance, gained traction in South Korea and Africa, thanks to the Punjabi diaspora. The same trend is seen in traditional bases like Canada and Australia, as well as in newer markets.

Deepa Rai, a UK-based film director, notes that Punjabi films are now being screened in more cities in the UK, reflecting the expanding market. Sharan Art, the director of ‘Mastaney,’ reveals that the ratio of overseas market to domestic has been consistently at 60:40. The success of ‘Carry on Jatta 3,’ released in 30 countries, including Spain with Spanish subtitles, illustrates the global appeal of Punjabi cinema.

However, it’s essential to recognize that Punjabi cinema’s success abroad is primarily driven by Punjabi communities. Daljit Thind, a prominent Punjabi film producer, points out that apart from occasional non-Indian, non-Punjabi audiences, the viewers are predominantly Punjabi. Punjabi cinema is especially significant in Canada, often surpassing Bollywood. Rai explains that only big-budget films featuring bankable actors like Diljit Dosanjh, Gippy Grewal, Amrinder Gill, and Ammy Virk secure theatrical releases abroad.

Munish Sahni believes that the same formulas that work in India also work abroad because “audiences are universal.” While Deepa Rai suggests that ‘Mastaney’ found success due to its Sikh culture-specific theme, Sahni counters that this year’s major Punjabi films are diverse, emphasizing the universality of their appeal.

Religious subjects have also found an audience abroad. Harry Baweja’s ‘Chaar Sahibzaade,’ which depicted the sacrifices of Guru Gobind Singh’s sons, performed well. Baweja believes that exploring religious themes objectively can work wonders. Behind ‘Mastaney’s’ success lies not only its grand scale but also its portrayal of a lesser-known slice of history, a formula that continues to captivate audiences.

The key to Punjabi cinema’s continued success on the global stage is quality. Producers are thinking creatively and expanding into new territories. Dubbing Punjabi films in foreign languages is one strategy, as it broadens the potential audience. However, maintaining a consistent flow of Punjabi content is equally crucial to making Punjabi cinema a habitual choice for audiences.

In the end, while ‘Mastaney’ alone may not be the sole catalyst for global recognition, it certainly paves the way. As Sharan Art envisions, when Punjabi cinema begins to reflect the diverse stories of the Punjabi diaspora, it will connect with international audiences on a deeper level. Until then, wherever Punjabis go, Punjabi cinema will continue to follow, breaking barriers and making boundaries irrelevant. The future holds the promise of a thriving Punjabi cinema on the world stage.

Manjari Singh

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