By making headlines,sparking off a controversy,activating a mass movement and winning a historic ruling,Punjabi film Sadda Haq may have won the war,but it lost the box-office battle to an air-headed romcom Jatt & Juliet 2. Where the former collected Rs 18 crore (as per the Punjabi Box Office report),Jatt & Juliet 2 raked in Rs 40 crore. The Neeru Bajwa-Diljit Dosanjh starrer a sequel to Jatt & Juliet (2012) surpassed this years first superhit romcom,Singh v/s Kaur that did a business of Rs 15 crore.
Lucky Di Unlucky Story (a comedy again) raked in Rs 16 crore,while hare-brained comedies such as Daddy Cool Mundey Fool,Tu Mera 22 Main Tera 22 and Jatts in Golmaal also laughed all the way to bank. Even below-average films such as Saddi Love Story,Rangeelay,Pher Mamala Gadbad Gadbad,Oye Hoye Pyaar Ho Gaya and Bikkar Bai Sentimental recovered their costs well. All that points to the fact that the top grossers in Punjabi cineman this year have been comedies,even if some of them were nonsensical and run-of-the-mill.
Political thriller Sikander and first teen drama Stupid 7 lost out to comedies. The latter part of 2013 will dish out some more comedies Aashiqui Not Allowed,Ishq Garari,Jatt Airways,Young Malang,Desi Munde,Jatt Boys,Putt Jattan De and Bhaji in Problem. But how long will the industry be able to hold on to its comic timing?
Not very long, points out producer JS Cheema. The audience is always hungry for change. And by the end of this year,Punjabi filmmakers will be forced to introspect and take a detour, he says.
In the meantime,filmmakers are happy pulling all the gags. Its a herd mentality,backed by those who are not from this industry. Seeing the business boom,all kinds of people who have nothing to do with films or its aesthetics are turning into producers. We have real-estate developers and businessmen pumping in money and delivering irrational comedies, says Amritsar-based filmmaker Navtej Sandhu,who made a short film,titled Noora,which in inspired from Balwant Gargis acclaimed work Rabbo Marasan. The audience watches comedies because they have no option, he says. Instead of actors,we have singers. Instead of stories,we have two hours of stand-up comedy. Its just an excuse to mint money, adds Cheema.
Some feel the real test begins now. This year will be decisive whether we are in it for money or in the service of the mother tongue, says actor-producer Gulzar Chahal. He says that in order to deliver good cinema,the filmmakers should keep the story central and budgets minimal,and move away from the male-dominated Pakistani style of loud humour.
Actor Gurpreet Ghuggi says there are a lot of illusions about Punjabi cinema. There is still unprofessionalism and immaturity. Films lack soul and are being made for urban youth,and not rural audiences or families or young children. Its a college-bunkers cinema living off weekend collections, he says.
Many feel the creative front needs a boost,with writers who are familiar with the Punjabi language and culture to come up with better characters and stories. There are lessons to be learnt from the Tamil and Telugu cinema where films regularly do a business upwards of Rs 50 crore. If we fail to take risks,we will end up like Bhojpuri cinema, says filmmaker Anurag Singh.
But change might be in the offing owing to a handful of other films releasing alongside assembly line comedy films. For instance,National Award-winning Nabar,Amardeep Singh Aulakhs short film Sutta Nag,Amitoj Maans Haani,Baljit Singh Deos Himmat Singh King of the Ring and Amrik Gills Kirpan.
Saturation is setting in. People are going as fans of Gippy Grewal and Diljit Dosanjh. They are yet to experience a film as mature cinegoers, says Sandhu,adding how Punjabi literature alone can fuel cinema for the next 25 years.