Punjabi social media went in to overdrive yesterday following the release of a new music video by legendary Punjabi singer and lyricist Gurdas Maan. ‘Punjab’ as the track is titled is the first release from Maan’s upcoming album, also titled ‘Punjab’, and surprised many with its stark depiction of a present-day dystopian Punjab and bluntly implied political commentary. There have been a few voices of dissent, but on the whole it has received rave reviews. So what’s my problem?
The song and extended music video to ‘Punjab’ (embedded further below) follows Gurdas Maan in the guise of a time-lord who visits the Punjabi martyr Bhagat Singh, then in his childhood days. The boy-Bhagat has made his way out into secluded fields to practice dying at the hangman’s noose, before being engaged in conversation by Maan who playfully asks him to explain what he is doing. Impressed by his resolve to die for the freedom of his nation, Maan’s time-lord stops just short of revealing that all is not well in the Punjab decades after it is freed from the British, but pushed by Bhagat Singh, the two strike a deal that the time lord will show Bhagat Singh what becomes of his beloved Punjab in the future, on the provision that he does not deviate from his own path towards martyrdom.
Cue four verses of song showcasing varying degrees of malaise that presently afflict the Punjab. It’s easy to see even on first viewing why the song and video have proven so popular both in the Punjab and outside of it – the music production is excellent, Maan’s vocals and lyrics are hauntingly pertinent, and the visuals tap in to that melodramatic style that is the calling card of South Asian cinema. Pulling at the heart-strings of the viewer, the song is an emotionally provocational work that holds a mirror up for the everyday Punjabi wherever they reside. And for that I would congratulate Gurdas Maan and the team that has created this song. But my problem lies less in what is being showcased for the most part, rather in what is missing, that is to say the cause and instigators of the problems that are destroying Punjab.
The opening scenes that accompany the song proper highlight a myriad of crimes in one setting including the recent notorious case where a female dancer was shot dead on stage at a wedding function by a drunk guest. We also see the abduction of a young female, acid being thrown into another’s eyes, a young man violently ripped from a travelling motorcycle, vapid twenty-somethings glued to their phones taking selfies, chunky men tucking into mass-produced burgers… all sat in an open-air square in front of a modern shopping complex, complete with a KFC and Dominos as the camera pans in. One takes away from this scene that the Punjab has lot all sense of itself and traditional values, looking no different than any other part of the World where chain stores and rampant consumerism have filled the void, and where violent crime is rife mostly focused on females. This is not an untruthful depiction of the Punjab, but is an incomplete one not just in terms of the causes of these problems, but in the way that they are manifested. Organised crime syndicates and a corrupt Police force account for more and sometimes graver crimes than these, but they are conveniently overlooked.