Rules for Sikh Characters in Bollywood
There are a few general rules by which according to Bollywood a Sikh character has to follow ons screen and this starts with the writing process. For profit and perhaps even with negative intentions the industry writers chose to use the 'Sikh Image' for Comic Relief.
So we wanted to break down the characteristics of a Sikh Character in Bollywood.
If the Sikh Character is shown as a Good Human Being
If the Sikh Character is shown as a good human being then it is usually implied that he/she is not very intelligent. Like in Singh is Kinng the lead is shown to be a babbling buffoon who has a clean conscience.
Even the supporting characters in the film are a mere stereotype of the Sikh Image. They are all ignorant and loud mouthed Punjabi's who are not good at their job.
Akshay Kumar's clothes are a reflection of the over the top and loud image the industry likes to use for the 'Punjabi Image'.
If the Sikh Character is shown as a Strong Man
Same goes for a character who exhibits strength. Usually strength is measured by the level of dumbness, otherwise the character projects.
If the character is indeed a strong individual then they are also shown to be a misfit in the society almost as if they are an anomaly.
If we observe the character as a whole they can be compared to characters like Shrek, Frankenstein Monster and other physically strong but mentally weak stereotypes.
If a Sikh Character is in a position of power
If a Sikh Character is shown in a position of power, there is usually an inbuilt mockery of their achievements. Most of the times they are shown as characters who had no personal value to add but somehow accidentally stumbled upon the position of power.
Take the example of Anupam Kher's character who is shown as an MLA of the village but he is nothing short of a Comic Relief in the film where the jokes are aimed at his ability to perform at any level.
All of his ideas are baseless and he constantly needs the help from others around him.
If a Sikh Character is in the Hero's Good Friend
A supporting character should be used to compliment the lead characters arc. However like in the example of Jhonny Lever in Raja Hindustani, mostly a Sikh Character is used to build up the lead.
The character like in this film is used to show how good the lead character is. Jhonny Lever is a dancing, loud mouthed, for the lack of a better word 'Idiot' in the film while Aamir Khan is composed and graceful, yet quirky.
But Jhonny Lever cannot be classified as quirky in the film.
If it's a Child Sikh Character in a film
Who can for get the Sardar Kid from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai who is always counting the stars but does anyone who why? Does he play any part in progressing the story forward except for laughs?
Everyone keeps asking him why is he counting the Stars and the answer is always implied, 'Because I am a Sardar so I am not that smart and I that is why I am doing this.'
Where did this implication come from? It's because of years or Subliminal messages engraved throughout the decades of Mis Representation.
These decisions are motivated by profit
Clearly in the past the movies which had these characters did do very well at the box office. It may have in part to do with the fact that the culture was looking for any type of representation on screen. So that was enough.
But with time the viewers have started to become more conscious about the stories that they watch. However there needs to be an alternative option to better and more accurate content that represents Sikhs on screen.
This is where we want to help.
How are we going to change this?
We will create high quality content with Sikh characters and Sikh stories to show how there is no longer a need to stereotype. We can prove to the market that a positive Sikh Image can also work with the audiences.
We also want to create opportunities for Sikh artists to collaborate and share ideas so that we can help promote the positive image of Sikhs.
Our younger generation needs positive role models on screen in order to feel proud of their Dastaar and Kesh. If we do not fight the attack on the Sikh Image then how can we expect the young to want to inherit it?
Which Turban an actor puts on is decided by people behind the camera. It all starts with getting the right team who believes in the same goal.
Don't take our world for it,
we have proof...
Here is a list of positive and negative portrayal of Sikhs in Bollywood films:
Movie: Sheheed Udham Singh
Release date: 1977
Portrayal: Accurately depicts Sikh as lion and revolutionary
Movie: Jallian Wala Bagh
Release date: 1977
Portrayal: Sikh freedom fighter is shown a brave and courageous
Release date: 1982
Portrayal: Excellent portrayal of a Sikh Air-force pilot in war/uniform. However, he wears a patka.
Movie: Raja Hindustani
Release date: 1996
Portrayal: Johnny Lever is depicted as a goofy and dumb Sikh with no beard
Release date: 25 October 1996
Portrayal: The film portrays the circumstances surrounding the rise of the Sikh insurgency in Punjab in the
1980s and traces the transformation of a youth from a boy next door to a revolutionary bent on wreaking vengeance.
Release date: 13 June 1997
Portrayal: Great movie showing martial ability of Sikhs and one of the greatest Sikh soldiers.
Movie Name: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Release date: 16 October 1998
Portrayal: Song shows a characters making fun of the Sikh child because he’s a ‘sardar’
Movie Name: Sangharsh
Release date: 3 September 1999
Portrayal: The slogan Raj Karega Khalsa is misused and misinterpreted by Preity Zinta’s brother who is shown to be a Sikh “terrorist”
Movie: Shaheed Udham Singh
Release date: 2000
Portrayal: Raj Babbar plays the man who took revenge on the British.
Movie Name: Mission Kashmir
Release date: 27 October 2000
Portrayal: The movie starts from a scene where a Sikh is portrayed as a very cowardly person
Movie Name: Mohabbatein
Release date: 27 October 2000
Portrayal: Anupam Kher wears patka and spreads hate.
Movie: Gadar: Ek Prem Katha
Release date: 15 June 2001
Portrayal: Sunny Deol is a Sikh who slaughters Muslims in the name of Waheguru during the Partition. He is shown as an
illiterate and marries a Muslim girl. However, he is shown as a sehajdhari Sikh who preserves the art of turban wearing and
retains the message of Sikhi and is ashamed of his sins.
Release date: 15 June 2001
Portrayal: Deva Singh Saudi is a really good Cricket player
Release date: 2002
Portrayal: Accurately represents Bhagat Singh’s cause for independence.
Movie: The Legend of Bhagat Singh
Release date: June 7, 2002
Portrayal: Great film portraying Bhagat Singh’s ambition and glory.
Release date: 8 June 2003
Portrayal: 1984 riots and succeeding conflicts are shown. Accurately depicts challenges/struggles Sikhs had to face.
Later the film shows how Sikhs responded in various ways. It is based on the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the nationwide 1984 Anti-Sikh riots and the subsequent victimization of the people in Punjab (India) in the years that followed.
Movie Name: Baghban
Release date: 3 October 2003
Portrayal: Asrani plays a very comical, stereotypical image of Sikhs with a fake turban.
Movie: Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.
Release date: 19 December 2003
Portrayal: Sikh man is shown as doctor while keeping full appearance.
Movie: Main Hoon Na
Release date: 30 April 2004
Portrayal: Sikhs are shown as respectful, military people. Kabir Bedi wears acts as a turbaned Sikh officer.
Movie: Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo
Release date: December 24, 2004
Portrayal: Sikhs are shown as respectful, military people. Amitabh Bachchan wears acts as a turbaned Sikh officer.
Movie: Jo Bole So Nihaal
Release date: 13 May 2005
Portrayal: Sunny Deol portrays a Sikh in a very distasteful manner, as he is filled with ego and shown as illiterate
and stupid. His mother is shown as an Amritdhari and a sick, idiotic woman. Deol is a Sikh police officer is shown
being chased by scantily-clad women. The Sikh FBI agent is forgetful of Sikh beliefs and has a bad dressing sense.
However, the movie does present/promote some Sikh teachings/beliefs in its plot.
Movie: Bunty Aur Babli
Release date: May 27, 2005
Portrayal: Rani Mukherjee is a Sikh girl who smokes
Release date: 2006
Portrayal: The film is based on the real-life events of the Chittisinghpura massacre on March 20, 2000, in
which 37 Sikhs were massacred by Islamic Fundamentalists in Kashmir.
Movie: Rang De Basanti
Release date: 26 January 2006
Portrayal: Draws parallels between revolutionaries of Singh’s era and modern Indian youth. Amir Khan has a Khanda tattoo
and is a Sehajdhari Sikh.
Release date: March 16, 2007
Portrayal: Absurd song “RABBA KHER KARE, LUT GAYA SARDAR” (sung by a Sikh-Labh Singh Janjua) is used. Sarabjeet ‘Saby’
Singh is obsessed with cricket and doesn’t pay attention to his wife.
Movie Name: Shootout at Lokhandwala
Release date: May 25, 2007
Portrayal: Sikh revolutionaries are labelled terrorists and are compared with underworld dons.
Movie: Jab We Met
Release date: 26 October 2007
Portrayal: Kareena Kapoor shown as dumb, stupid, and crazy girl and demoralizes the image of a woman, Jatti, and Sikhni through
Movie: Return of Hanuman (previously Hanuman Returns)
Release date: 28 December 2007
Portrayal: The school Headmaster of Hanuman is shown to be a Sardar
who behaves in a disgusting way. This is used to promote Hinduism over Sikhi, and defame Sikhs by showing them
as arrogant/condescending and labeling them as a cult of Hindus.
Release date: 20 June 2008
Portrayal: A Sikh family is shown in the wrong manner and their daughter has an affair with a Hindu who is living in their
house. The family has no problem with this relationship or their marriage.
Movie: Singh is Kinng
Release date: 8 August 2008
Portrayal: At times Akshay Kumar’s character sported a trimmed beard and fake turban, but this was later changed. He
is shown as a useless, stupid, illiterate guy. However, the movie does promote some religious beliefs and teachings.
Release date: October 24, 2008
Portrayal: Salman Khan plays a turbaned Sikh in the Sikh Regiment in the Kargil War. His son Jasvinder Singh is shown
wearing a patka in childhood, but is played by Salman Khan at the end of the movie and is shown clean shaven with a haircut.
Movie: Golmaal Returns
Release date: 29 October 2008
Portrayal: Gopal uses his friend’s yatch one night to escape being drenched in the rain. The boat’s appliances (like TV) suggest
that his friend is into women and watches porn. It is later reviled that his friend is a Sikh and is shown fat, wears
jewelry (showing Maya and ego), and hangs out with multiple women (suggesting adultery).
Movie: Love Aaj Kal
Release date: 31 July 2009
Portrayal: This movie shows Rishi Kapoor and Khan with turbans and doesn’t distort the Sikh image.
Movie: Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year
Release date: December 11, 2009
Portrayal: Portrayal is positive and shows how Sardars are not to be made fun of.
Movie: Yamla Pagla Deewana
Release date: January 14, 2011
Portrayal: This film stereotyped Sikhs. It shows the girl who got the NRI as a fair-skinned kudi with a beautiful
physique. Meanwhile her cousin, who is chunkier and tanner, is portrayed as the girl desperate to get a guy and go
to Canada. Furthermore, there are scenes of Sikh guys getting drunk. In fact, one scene shows Paramveer drinking
out of a bucket and everyone praising him for it. Alcohol is a problem is a Punjab and we should be trying to reduce
it, not encourage it. Not to mention Dharam and Gajodhar don’t even start wearing dastaars until they have to disguise
themselves. A dastaar is something you’re supposed to wear with pride!
Movie: Patiala House
Release date: February 11, 2011
Portrayal: Akshay Kumar is a Sehajdhari Sikh who wants to play cricket for England, and his dad Rishi Kapoor is the
turbaned leader of the Southall Sikh community.
Movie: I Am Singh
Release date: December 2, 2011
Portrayal: Great movie depicting struggles Sikhs go through after 9/11.
Movie: Son of Sardaar
Release date: 13 November 2012
Portrayal: Returning to his parents’ village, a man becomes the latest target in a long-standing family feud. This film stars well known actors in turbans but is mostly a cheaper version of Yamla Pagla Deewana.
Movie: Yamla Pagla Deewana 2
Release date: 7 June 2013
Portrayal: Average film showing the trio of Dharam (Dharmendra), Paramveer (Sunny Deol) and Gajodhar (Bobby Deol) reunite, this time in the UK. Paramveer opens up the “Yamla Pagla Deewana” club and re-encounters a visit with Dharam and Gajodhar, after their last visit to Canada. Now, the trio are back with double the fun, double the action, with the presence of a fool (Johnny Lever), and double the romance, with the Suman (Neha Sharma), and Paramveer’s love Reet (Kristina Akheeva).
Movie: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Release date: 12 July 2013
Portrayal: Excellent film showing tThe truth behind the ascension of Milkha “The Flying Sikh” Singh who was scarred because of the India-Pakistan partition.
Movie: Singh Saab the Great
Release date: 22 November 2013
Portrayal: Good movie showing a modern Sikh man and his life’s struggle in India. A common man works as a tax collector in a small city. A TV journalist uncovers the mysterious hero’s back