There’s a scene in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani when Ranveer Singh steps out of his car, a Ferrari, of course, and Diljit Dosanjh’s ‘Lover’ is playing out loud. Dosanjh is the voice of Punjabi luxe dressed in Gucci tracksuits, and looked most comfortable on stage at Coachella. But he is also the face on the poster when it comes to some of the most horrific cases of disappearance or assassination at the height of militancy in Punjab. There are few stars who have traded their gold-plated status for serious cinema and even more serious messaging. So whether it was Ali Abbas Zafar’s Jogi (2022) based on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, or the forthcoming Amar Singh Chamkila, Imtiaz Ali’s ode to the singer Amar Singh Chamkila who was shot in 1988, Dosanjh is the face of that trauma. So it’s no surprise that he stars in Punjab 95, Honey Trehan’s biopic of Jaswant Singh Khalra. Khalra was a Sikh banker-turned-civil rights activist who brought to light the horrific killings of over 2,000 policemen in the aftermath of militancy in the state— in a total of 25,000 illegal killings and disappearances. The irony is that the film, which has received 21 cuts from the Central Board of Film Certification, and which the filmmakers are contesting in the Bombay High Court, has been picked up to be shown at the forthcoming Toronto International Film Festival. Coincidentally, Khalra’s research into the disappeared also found an audience in Canada, which has a large population of Sikhs and Punjabis. Dosanjh is earnest, committed and obsessive as Khalra in a savage film that clearly needs to be watched on the big screen, especially for Suvinder Vicky’s feral police officer. Whether the cuts will make it worth watching is doubtful.
Claiming as Her Own
News that the Amrohi family has objected to a Meena Kumari biopic being made by Manish Malhotra can only come as a surprise to those who keep track of such things. Film director Kamal Amrohi married the actress Meena Kumari and then controversially divorced her, only to marry her again. He was also, from all accounts, less than kind towards her while they were married. The actress, who is enjoying a post-life resurgence as a poet who wrote under the pseudonym Naaz, died young at 38, and childless, after a prolonged battle with alcoholism. Now Amrohi’s children have claimed her as their “chhoti ammi” and refuse to allow anyone to film her life without their permission. Amrohi, who helmed Daaera with Meena Kumari in 1953, also directed her last and most iconic film, Pakeezah, released a few weeks before she died. Meena Kumari, born Mahjabeen Bano, had acted since she was four, but taught herself to read and write. Male artists leave legacies and inheritances, women just have their life stories which are not even theirs to control. Amrohi left Kamalistan Studio to his family, while Meena Kumari gifted the one flat she had bought to director Sawan Kumar Tak. Despite appropriators, she continues to live on in her poetry which is now the subject of much scholarly examination, and in her powerful cinematic performances. This absence of legal guardians is repeated in the case of another talented beauty Madhubala, whose sister Madhur Brij Bhushan has become the self-declared protector of her legacy. Writer Sushila Kumari threatened to sue Bhushan for running down her book Madhubala: Dard ka Safar, on which a film is being made. Madhubala too died childless, at the age of 36. In Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe’s death at 36 provided enough fodder for a host of biographies and biopics. Second-hand interpretations of her life continue, denying her agency, but our appetite for new insights into her life are limitless. The unfulfilled promise of someone who will remain forever young rankles.
Scene and Heard
We first saw her in the abysmal Besharam (2013), co-starring Ranbir Kapoor. Since then, she has found herself in better films and series such as Lion (2016) and Beecham House (2019). Now, Australian-Indian actor Pallavi Sharda has been appointed to the board of Screen Australia by Arts Minister Tony Burke. The idea is to turbocharge the Australian government’s national cultural policy, known as Revive, which was launched in January and includes five pillars, the second of which, “a place for every story”, represents an explicit commitment to diversity in the cultural life of the nation.