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An Open Letter..

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Open Letter to Mr Narendra Modi

A Bollywood film called ‘Udta Punjab’ is to be released on 17th June, this year. A film I, and many others across India and the rest of the world, have been eagerly waiting for. Unfortunately, I have recently learnt that the Central Board of Film Certification (Censor Board) are censoring the film because of its subject matter; drugs.

I do not live in India, I live in the U.K. but that does not mean I am happy with this new controversial development surrounding the fate of this movie. Frankly, I am appalled with this decision to cut over 80 scenes from the movie as well removing the very essence of the plot; the state of Punjab.

My parents were born and bred in Punjab, my grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. My life is enriched with the culture and traditions of Punjab. I may very well be British but my heritage originates from Punjab. I, like many other Indian citizens, am concerned about this decision made by the censor board, for a variety of reasons.

Removing Punjab from ‘Udta Punjab’ defies the whole point of the film. ‘Udta Punjab’ will depict the horrifyingly high usage of drugs in Punjab, where over 70% of the youth are drug addicts. By taking Punjab out of the equation you are allowing the state to get away with issues that should be dealt with head on. Do you honestly believe people aren’t aware? I have visited Punjab many times and I have witnessed first hand the complications that arise from drugs and how the government of Punjab and India are idly sitting on their hands whilst a state tumbles head first towards its death.

For the first time, ever, someone has decided to finally speak about the issue of drugs and now you are doing everything in your power to stop them from highlighting a message that affects the future of your country? Not once has anything been done to try and reduce the use of drugs in Punjab. The government is fine with the state getting destroyed by drugs misuse but what irritates them is when someone brave enough comes along and makes a film on it. The hypocrisy of the Indian government baffles me.

The Punjabi government is known for banning films that portray the reality of their misdeeds and to some extent, if I put myself in their shoes for a minute, I can understand their (deluded) need to hide their mistakes. In the past, a couple of Punjabi movies have been banned in Punjab because of their subject matter. However this did not stop the outcry and outrage of the thousands of Punjabis around the world. The movies were shared on social media and were tremendously successful abroad, I should know, I watched them too.  But enough is enough.

Anurag Kashyap (a film director and producer) recently tweeted this:

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I wholeheartedly agree with his statement. I find it encouraging to see well known and critically acclaimed Bollywood directors putting their foot down and protesting against the censor board.

A lot of Bollywood movies have ‘item numbers’; songs that show female actors dancing and singing in a sexualised manner. I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea of item numbers purely because of the degrading manner in which female actors are portrayed. I have the uttermost respect for Bollywood actors and actresses that branch away from such sexism and provide entertainment through films that actually have a moral and ethical tie to them. ‘Udta Punjab’ is one of those films and it sickens me that the movie is being cut so those who place themselves on a pedestal can continue to live their privileged lives without any obstructions.

Drugs, rape, sexism, dowry, discrimination, homophobia are subjects that deserve to be spoken about. The youth of India deserves to be shown the truth about its country. The highest platform to get that point across is the Bollywood movie industry. With the exception of cricket, the Bollywood movie industry has the biggest impact on Indian citizens. Filmmakers who use that as an advantage to spread good are the ones I respect and when a filmmaker is using the same platform to talk about an issue that the majority of India needs to know about, why are they being hushed up? For what reason?

Mr Modi, you have constantly said that India is a tolerant country. Is it? When its own government and constitution cannot comprehend the importance of freedom of speech and expression, how can you expect your citizens to follow through?

Punjab is my hometown. I love the people, the traditions and culture that lives within Punjab. But if drug misuse is not brought under control, Punjab’s youth will descend towards their death. Growing up, I saw Punjab as a state that flourished with vibrancy. Now all I see is the aftermath of a state forgotten by its government and left to fend for itself. ‘Udta Punjab’ deserves to be shown in India and across the world. Those 80+ scenes deserve to be shown and Punjab itself needs to be brought to the forefront of every Indian’s mind because without that, the state and the people of Punjab and other states across India will continue to suffer.

Simran Gill

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Punjab 1984..

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This post will merely reflect my personal opinions of the film and nothing else.

Yesterday I went to watch a Punjabi film with my family called ‘Punjab 1984’. Being a Sikh, this was a film that I know a lot of fellow Sikh’s were eagerly anticipating the release of. There were also those who weren’t as eager but more hesitant as the film depicts the aftermath of what occurred in June 1984 – Operation Blue Star – when Harminder Sahib, in Amritsar, Punjab (The Golden Temple) was raided by government militants and hundreds of innocent Sikhs were killed in a crossfire.

Growing up I’ve heard, as I’m sure many other Sikh children have to, various stories and accounts of what happened on that fateful day. For me personally, I was given first account details because at the time, my mum was living in India with her family. Her account of what occurred during and after the massacre was harrowing and sickening. At the time no one could have predicted how one order from a government militant would become the catalyst for the destruction of so many innocent lives, in years to come. Yet, that’s exactly what happened and this is what is portrayed in Anurag Singh’s (the director) film.

The film tells the story of a mother and son, who is captured by police and tortured and made to succumb to a ‘fake encounter’, he survives and as such goes on a journey to gain justice to what has happened to not only him but hundreds of young men. The son, Shivjeet Singh Maan, is wrongly accused of terrorism and is only captured because the police officer Deep Singh Rana, was instigated by Shiva’s relative who wants his land and in order to gain that he wants Shiva dead. As a result, Shiva’s mother, Satwant Kaur goes in search of her missing son until they finally meet at the end where she is tragically left alone once again.

A lot of people have criticised this film. Mostly because they believe that Sikhs are shown in a negative light and that the film is ‘propaganda for the state’. I disagree completely. Only those who were in India during that time and experienced the horror are fully aware of what the circumstances were. I wasn’t born then, so many people would say that I’m just a new generation Sikh who doesn’t really have much of a clue. Frankly speaking, yes I wasn’t born then, I didn’t experience anything first-hand but I do know family relatives that did. My parents have always stressed the importance of knowing about 1984, and when I was younger, I didn’t fully understand why or even bother understanding it. For me it was a world away from what my life was. However, that changed once I was wise and old enough to decipher the meaning of the massacre, I did my own research and gained my own perspective on what happened. As such, I believe that what happened during June 1984 and after had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with power, control, money, status, greed and corruption – in other words, politicians.

The film depicts this quite clearly and in my opinion, realistically. One of the politician’s in the film is a Sikh, but by name only, for he is corrupt. No shock there because at that time, you were lucky if you didn’t bump into someone of authority who wasn’t corrupt. Preaching peace on one side and manipulating Sikhs and Hindus against each other on the other side, typical behaviour of a politician who wants power and votes. This however, doesn’t portray Sikhs in a negative light, as some have suggested, it portrays politicians in negative light and rightly so. What occurred in the after-math of 1984 was man-made. Human beings were pitted against each other, not in the name of religion but in the name of power. Those brave enough to stand up against it were deemed terrorists when in reality terrorists were those who had authority and took advantage of the innocent individuals who became collateral damage, in a fight for leadership.

Whilst watching this film, I was deeply moved by the harsh reality that so many families had to live with. I cried throughout most of the film and the final moments of the film were incredibly difficult to watch because I felt the pain, the hurt, the anger and the betrayal of what happened to Satwant Kaur (the mother) and her son and as such it made me realise that, to this day there are many women like her still waiting and hoping for their son’s, brother’s, father’s and husband’s to return home. My mum was also deeply affected, the film brought back so many memories of her own experiences. Of how her mother, my nani ji (maternal grandmother) lived in fear everyday for her husband and sons to return home. How my mum’s brother, my mama ji, at the tender age of 15 was too frightened to use the bathroom outside, in the middle of the night in fear of being picked up by the police. How everyday my mum and her siblings had to get in home in time as a curfew was forced upon everyone currently living at that time, in Punjab. One of my mum’s relative’s was unfortunately captured by police, he was one of the very few lucky ones to have survived but to this day does not forget what he experienced.

‘Punjab 1984’ will no doubt cause an uproar in India, amongst many individuals. That was always expected. However I believe that the people that are against it the most are those who have something to be guilty of. To this day I wonder who those police officers were and who those government spies/officials were that carried out this injustice and whether or not they will go and see this film, and see themselves reflected in it.

It has now been 30 years since Operation Blue Star. Punjab and the people of Punjab have been on a recovery process since then. Slowly, lives are getting back to how they used to be. Time has moved on decades, yet June 1984 is never forgotten and never will be. It is remembered as a dark day in Sikh history. The injustice of what happened still haunts many and will always do so. I remember it as a day when humans made dire mistakes and innocents suffered the consequences.

I urge people to watch ‘Punjab 1984’, not just for Diljit Dosanjh (the actor who played Shiva) but for our community in general. A lot of youngster’s will not know the truth of what happened and perhaps this film doesn’t show the full truth but you have to be the judge of that, of what you believe in. People need to see the film in order to understand the plight of so many innocents and the injustice done to them.

Many will say why rehash the past? I say that although the past is past, it is never forgotten and shouldn’t be forgotten. The past teaches us to not make the same mistakes in our present and future. It is up to the individual whether they take that on board and as such shows the difference between the good (who will learn from the mistakes) and the bad (who will still make the mistakes).

I set out to make this a post which regards my personal opinion of the film and I realise that I may have gone quite a bit in-depth into it. None of the above was written to offend anyone and if it has, I apologise. I believe that everyone has a right to their own opinion so I welcome anyone else’s opinion who thinks differently. –