Review of ‘Punjab 1984′:
First and foremost, one must applaud the casting, directing, acting, cinematography, historical topic research, and musical numbers of the film, ‘Punjab 1984′.
Kirron Kher is the elite actress expected to give an extraordinary performance, but even this one seemed to have topped any other performance I have seen from her. Her role of Shivjeet’s mother reminded me of her role in, ‘Khamosh Pani’ or ‘Silent Waters’, a French/German production about the period of strife in Pakistan under General Zia-Ul-Haq; another noteworthy performance.
The singer turned actor, Diljit Dosanjh, has shown how he has taken the next step in his acting career to be called an actor, and not just a singer trying to be an actor. His role of the common Punjabi youth drawn into political, social, and revolutionary circumstances, does an unbelievable justice to the topic of 1984 and Punjab.
I was afraid of this film being an inaccurate representation of the Sikh movement against state repression. This fear came about from some random comments on Facebook by some viewers of the film and also by a review on Sikhsiyasat.net. I’m not professing that my review represents the view of all viewers, but rather, my review is just that, my personal interpretation of the screenplay.
The film portrays how people used the excesses being committed by security forces and the state machinery to settle personal scores, i.e. taking over land or property. Many people used their connections with the police and politicians to get their rivals disappeared or tortured by labeling them as “Atwaadis” or terrorists. The film accurately shows how the police committed fake encounters, planted cases on Sikh youth without any investigation or trial.
The matter that I appreciated the most, was that the film shows how ordinary youth, such as Shivjeet Singh, the lead role played by Diljit, were drawn into this inhumane cyclone of state repression and counter actions by armed Sikh groups. The average Sikh youth, prompted by the strong emotions to live fearlessly, to live with honor and dignity, and to be treated as citizens of the nation rather than second class citizens, joined the ranks of the khadku jathas.
Some people have an issue with this film because the film also shows how some youth in the guise of khadkus were actually hand in glove with powerful politicians and were not in the movement for the larger goals of the Sikh panth. Having read the interviews of Shaheed Baba Gurbachan Singh Ji Manochahal, I believe the movie very accurately captured these complex and self defeating realities. Baba Gurbachan Singh Ji mentions in his interview with well known Punjabi journalist Kanwar Sandhu that many youth had joined the khadku movement, but, instead of helping the Qaum, actually hurt it because they have picked up weapons and are using them on innocent people, which alienated the Punjabi masses to the Sikh struggle for justice and freedom. He goes onto to mention how his group had to kill some of these rotten apples who had joined the ranks of the Sikh freedom fighters.
It is important to note that the Indian government used a very powerful strategy in creating “Black Cats” that wore the garb of Sikh khadkus, dumallas, chola, and panj kakaars. Their mission was to tarnish the image of the Sikh freedom fighters so that no Punjabi would be willing to offer shelter or food. Many politicians and high ranking police officials had their personal groups of black cats, such as the infamous fake Nihang Poohla, ‘The Alam Sena'(senior superintendent of police (Jalandhar) Mohammad Izhar Alam’s peronsal band of fake khadkus who terrorized the masses in the countryside), and so forth. The film shows this nexus and I believe some people are interpreting this as showing the Sikh freedom fighters in a bad light. Anyone who has studied the Sikh freedom struggle of the 80s and early 90s can attest to the fact that such people did exist that had a mission to harm the motives of the struggle, either intentionally or unintentionally.
The film captures the audience in a dramatic story which any viewer can relate to regardless of one’s social, religious, or political views. The story of a mother and her only child and the pain of an unexpected separation in a time when many sons never returned home and many that did, returned as ashes.
I recommend this film 200%. Well done Mr. Anurag Singh! Well done to the whole cast and crew.