Sikhs In Bollywood: How The Representation Of Sardaars Does A Disservice To The Community
Remember a Sikh guy from Bollywood? Was he the comic relief? Or did he decide to beat the living daylights out of everyone? We need to have a discussion about the tone-deaf representation of the community in the Hindi film industry.
While binging through the first season of ‘Sacred Games’ on Netflix, I remember trying to tinker my brain and think of the last time I saw a Sikh guy who wasn’t reduced to a caricature on the big screen. I could only think of Diljit Dosanjh’s character in Udta Punjab or Boman Irani from 'Khosla ka Ghosla' but that was pretty much it.
Was it my memory failing to deliver or was this Bollywood failing the community at large?
This massive failure in Sikh representation in cinema comes as a surprise as the Hindi film industry has been dominated by North Indians and Punjabis. For us, the north Indians, sikh friends come as a part and parcel of living in this part of the country.
One would expect filmmakers to tell stories which drive their inspiration from one’s personal experiences. If this is the case, have no filmmakers been around ordinary Sikh individuals who don’t crack jokes at a breakneck speed or beat up the ‘enemies of the state’.
Funnily enough, Akshay Kumar has always portrayed both ends of the spectrum when it comes to Sikhs. A few days ago, Bollywood served its audience more of this trope in ‘Kesari’.
We’ve had the Canadian-passport-holding poster-boy-for-hypernationalism actor play the ‘funny’ one in ‘Singh is King’. Of course, this duality seems to be a lost cause on an actor who personifies everything wrong with the establishment and the Hindi film industry at large.
One of the biggest proponents of this culture of showcasing upper-caste affluent Hindus is Zoya Akhtar. Before she finally delivered a good film that needed to ride on the desi hip-hop subculture to become relevant (read ‘marketable’) in ‘Gully Boy’, Zoya had said in an interview that the “Indian audience doesn’t want to watch poor people.”
According to a report in The Quartz, ‘In 2014, only two films had lead characters who were Christian, three had Sikhs and nine had Muslims (including the critically-acclaimed Indian adaptation of Hamlet, Haider). Meanwhile, as many as 66 lead characters were upper caste Hindus, while the rest were Hindus whose caste was not mentioned or was unknown.’
With already abysmal representation in mainstream cinema, this perception of Sikh guys as the comic relief or the quintessential action-hero needs to be looked at. If the industry were to strengthen their writers who can bring out their local stories on the silver screen.
With a stronger writers pool, we’d see more of ‘Rocket Singh: Salesman of the year’ and less of ‘Gadar’. That's the first step to solving this glaring issue - inclusivity in the writing department would reflect directly as diversity in characters on the silver screen.
Do better, Bollywood.