The origins of Punjabi cinema can be traced back to the year of 1932 when the age-old folklores of love and history were helmed for the screens like ‘Heer-Ranjha’. In 1934, K.D Mehra debuted as a director to release the successful Punjabi film titled ’Sheila’, also known as ‘Pind di Kudi’. Baby Noor Jehan acted and sang in this film. And this was the beginning of an era that has never ceased to end. The success of this film encouraged a number of producers to consider investing in movies as a way of earning money.
Lahore soon became a huge market for Punjabi films. The virginity of the field of film-making lured filmmakers, investors, journalists, and directors into it. Lahore film industry became a buzzing bee of films. The pace of cinema was increasing rapidly with films like Puran Bhagat, Mirza Sahiban, Mera Punjab, and many others being released in just the course of a few years.
Following the Partition, the film industry suffered a huge setback with Lahore in Pakistan and the ones who remained in India moved to Mumbai to work in Bollywood. The scars of partition took away all the charm, joy, fun and entertainment from the elves of people. The economy suffered from the most prosperous areas of Punjab remaining in Pakistan and what was left could not exactly be put to use for the flourishing of the film industry. So, almost a decade was spent to resurrect for the losses.
The 60’s saw a period of pre-renaissance in Punjabi industry with music and films coming back to life. Prem Chopra became one of the known faces but his time. In 1964, ‘Satluj de Kande’ starring Balraj Sahni was released which was a very big-budget romantic film and also won the national award.
In 1969, things turned bright and colourful for Punjabi cinema. The first color movie in Punjabi was released this year titled ‘Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai’ which was directed by Ram Maheshwari and starred Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Vimi Somdutt, Jagdish Raj, and others. Successful at home and abroad, this film had a major impact on Sikhs everywhere and people actually stood in queues to get the tickets. Quite a huge success! Winning the National Film Award for Best Feature film in Punjabi, who knew this film will be restored for release in 2015!
A number of stars from the Hindi film industry like Rekha, Sunil Dutt, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Premnath starred in Punjabi films at that time. The 90’s again saw a death blot because of the insurgency but still, a number of films were produced, some of them worked well and others failed miserably. By this time, actors like Guggu Gill, Preeti Sapru, Yograj Singh, and Gurdas Maan had taken the silver screen by their acts.
And then came the 21st century. This was the era when a number of people from Punjab had migrated overseas and that also came to effect in the kind of movies that came. In 2003, ‘Jee Aaya Nu’ welcomed the Punjabi audience in India and of the diaspora to such a treat that we remember even today. This probably was the first diasporas film made in the Punjabi language. Directed by Manmohan Singh, it saw the debut of singer turned actor Harbhajan Maan. Made on a huge budget of 90 lakhs at that time, the film was an instant success.
Harbhajan Maan acted in some of the most popular films of all time like ‘Asa Nu Maan Vatna Da’. Neeru Bajwa and Gurpreet Ghuggi came to the forefront with this movie. Apart from these, Maan also acted in ‘Dil Apna Punjabi’, ‘Jag Jeondian de Mele’ The coming years saw a splurge of Punjabi films with a number of actors, actresses, supporting cast getting acclaim for their acting.
A new class of sarcastic artists like Jaspal Bhatti, Gurpreet Ghuggi, and Vivek Shouk acted as a catalyst in the success of a number of films.
In the coming years, a number of singers turned into actors and tried to make use of their already achieved music success to gain popularity as actors. Well, some failed initially and some failed forever.
Coming to the contemporary times, Punjabi film industry is a fully grown independent enterprise and as it turns out, the number of films being produced in Bollywood has increased tremendously over the past five years only. From being centric to just a few subjects, there is a change in the genres with production values much higher than before, interest of investors increasing and everything accounting to the returns breaking records like none before. From weak and unconvincing sluggish plots to storylines that are of the level of Bollywood, that take the story from the land of five rivers to countries like Canada and England, times are indeed changing. The storylines have evolved and it is not just about Balle Balle now!
From 2013 until now, on an average, 40 films are being produced every year which is in itself an accomplishment. With not any support from the State government, and thriving independently, Punjabi films have indeed come a long way. In 2013, the sequel to Diljit Dosanjh starrer ‘Jatt and Juliet 2’ was released to an outstanding box office collection of 30.7 crores, whereas Gippy Grewal starrer ‘Bhaji in Problem’ collected 17 crores. Made on a budget of fewer than 7 crores, these two films garnered a lot of love from the masses and gave Diljit and Gippy the much popularity, which they carry with themselves to this day.
2014 saw the release of one of the first of its kind film, ‘Punjab 1984’ was released, which was a period drama based on the 1984-86 Punjab insurgency’s impact on the social life of people, emphasising the relationship between a mother and her son. Box office collections of this movie reached around 34 crores and the movie received positive reviews from critics as well as audiences. It also won the National award for Best Feature Film in Punjabi for its searing portrayal of how ordinary lives and simple dreams got shattered in the time of militancy.
This was also the year for the first Punjabi 3D computer animated historical drama film ‘Chaar Sahibzaade’. Directed by Harry Bajwa, the movie was a critic and commercial success and also became the highest grossing animated movie ever produced in India.
Made on a budget of 13 crores, ‘Sardaarji’ collected 62 crores on box office in 2015. one of the first fantasy films to be made in Punjabi cinema, it has made the record of the biggest opening ever for a Punjabi film in Punjab. In the same year, the first of its kind romantic period drama ‘Angrej’ was released, starring Amrinder Gill, Sargun Mehta and Aditi Sharma in the lead roles. Set against the backdrop of British Raj, the film depicts the story of a couple belonging to different financial classes. The earthy looks, traditional ways and culture of Punjab was chronicled in this movie. it came straight out of the soul and reached our hearts. Without any exaggeration, this movie portrayed the olden times in the most realistic ways.
Come 2016, and it was an year of caravan of successful movies at the box office. Beginning with ‘Channo Kamli Yaar Di’ to ‘Ardaas’, ‘Love Punjab’, ‘Ambarsariya’, ‘Bambukat’, and ‘Nikka Zaildar’, it was an year of different genres from romance to comedy, diaspora, thriller, religious, and period drama.
In 2017, the concepts became different and the projects became bigger. Films like ‘Super Singh’, ‘Manje Bistre’, ‘Lahoriye’, ‘Nikka Zaildar2’, ‘Sardar Mohammad’, ‘Lahoriye’ were some of the major commercial and critical successes. 2017 also saw the release of ‘The Black Prince’, directed by British director Kavi Raz. History of Punjab is replete with characters ranging from the royals to the warriors to the lovers.
To bring those characters on the silver screen and to show us the stories from the lives of these historical characters has certainly been awarding and a step further for Punjabi cinema.
The year 2018 witnessed the first ever war-based Punjabi movie ‘Sajjan Singh Rangroot’. The movie is based on the true story about the patriotism and bravery of Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army fighting during WW1. With the onset of movies like ‘Sajjan Singh Rangroot’, films like ‘Subedar Joginder Singh’, ‘Dakuaan da Munda’ have also been made which are based on the life of real people.
‘Carry on Jatta 2’ released in June and made the record of the best opening of a Punjabi film in India. It is the record-breaker highest grossing Punjabi film of all time, with the box office collection of 60.37 crores.
‘Harjeeta’, the first Punjabi film based on a sport, and based on the life of hockey player Harjeet Singh was also released this year. The remaining year is also packed with films like ‘Afsar’,’Qismat’, and ‘Aate di Chidi’.
This is the golden phase of Punjabi cinema, with a revival of period dramas, bigger projects and Bollywood stars of Punjabi accent taking part in Punjabi films. With veteran actors like Karamjit Anmol, Jaswinder Bhalla, BN Sharma, Gurdas Maan, Jimmy Shergill, Anita Devgn, and many others, and directors like Jagdeep Sidhu, Ksshitij Chaudhary, Sameep Kang, Simerjit Singh, and others, Pollywood is for sure becoming a huge name and it would not be long when P will be referred to Pollywood!