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Friday, May 22, 2009

Rise of the Turbanator on the big screen

Priyanka Pereira - May 22, 2009

The turban is on a high these days. This unique piece of headgear has broken the mould of the typical heroes of Hindi cinema and, in turn, increased the number of turbanators on the silver screen. It was the commercial success of Singh is Kinng that brought the good old turban into the foray and, ever since, directors and producers have been following suit. “It is a case of following a trend that’s popular. When a movie or serial witnesses success, the others try to imitate the key elements,” says Anees Bazmee, the director of Singh is Kinng, who revolutionised Bollywood by portraying Akshay Kumar as a Sikh protagonist. 

Although Sunny Deol, sported the Sikh headgear in a couple of movies, it was Akshay Kumar’s colourful turbans that paved the way for more lookalikes. Bazmee, who is riding high on success, feels that an old Bollywood fear has finally been overcome — that of risking a Sikh as the protagonist of a film that is meant for mass audiences. “The entire crew thought it was a bad idea to have a Sikh hero, especially romancing a pretty girl like Katrina Kaif. But my script demanded that. And today, it seems like the turban has repositioned itself in the larger scheme of things. Jaspal Bhatti, the much-loved turbaned artiste, feels that it’s the maturity of both directors and audiences that has led to this revolution. “Earlier, when Sikhs wanted to work in Bollywood, they first got rid of their hair because turbaned actors weren’t deemed fit to play the lead. But now, with increasing Punjabi population across the world, the trend seems to have picked up. And with Manmohan Singh as our Prime Minister, Sikhs have gained visibility and achieved a distinct identity,” says Bhatti. 

For a long time, however, the turban was used for some slapstick comedy routine. And at other times, to portray the Good Samaritan. The turban may have stepped into the arclights now but a few popular stereotypes are yet to fade off completely. “The stereotypes can be blamed on the popular portrayal of Sikhs who were shown as innocent people with some amount of flashy loudness,” says Bazmee. “With Singh is Kinng,I portrayed Happy Singh as a loveable, helpful and sacrificing character, which hadn’t been shown on the big screen earlier.” Bhatti seconds his thoughts. “With Border and Gadar – Ek Prem Katha, the trend had slowly come in, but the clear portrayal of the Sardar in Singh is Kinng, brought about a revolution.” 

Such has been the impact that Saif Ali Khan has decided to play a Sikh in his first home production Love Aaj Kal and Sohail Khan will be seen sporting a turban in his own, Kissan. So isn’t there going to be some amount of overlapping? Dinesh 

Vijan, Khan’s partner and co-founder of Illuminati Films, responds, “Saif didn’t play a sardar in Love Aaj Kal, he became one, and that’s the difference. There’s no Saif in Veer Singh. He changed everything — his posture, mannerisms, language. Even the staunchest of Sardars in Patiala gave their approval when they saw him walking on the set.” 

The current fad seems to have impressed the newbies as well. With Ranbir Kapoor portraying the role of a Punjabi salesman in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, it seems like this trend is here to stay. “Creating a Sikh character is easy. To state the purpose of it will be the difficult part,” says Bazmee.


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