Akshay Kumar’s movie ‘Singh is Bling’ is Bollywood’s latest attempt to co-opt Sikh symbols to make money. This movie was made for the single purpose of using the Sikh pagh and Punjabi culture to ensure the film’s commercial success.
First, Bollywood needs to get one thing straight – Punjabiyat and Sikhi are not synonymous; you can be Punjabi and not be Sikh. So why do they insist on always confusing the two? When there’s a Hindu character that happens to be from Punjab they’ll surround that character with Sikh symbols. For example, a obviously Hindu character will have sardar relatives. When there’s a Sikh character in Indian movies they will usually be seen with some sort of Hindu paraphernalia. Sikh characters in Indian movies will have Hindu idols in their home or in a wedding scene be participating in a Hindu instead of Sikh service. Bollywood sends the covert message to viewers that Sikhs are not their own independent identity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Sikh or Hindu Punjabi, to Bollywood you’re one and the same.
Similarly, Akshay Kumar’s latest co-opting of the Sikh identity falls in line with Hindu controlled India’s historical erasure of minority groups. For example, the movie has the word Singh in the title yet there’s nothing in its trailer to suggest that the film raises awareness of Sikh cultural traditions. Instead, the clip released by the studio equates Singhs and Sikhs with clichéd Punjabi stereotypes. It opens with a scene of Darbar Sahib Amritsar and then quickly degenerates into a video of whiskey being poured, bhangra dancers, and slabs of tandoori chicken! Some producer also got the bright idea of sticking Nihangs in the shot to clinch the deal.
What’s more, Akshay Kumar is Punjabi Hindu in real life. He and others with his background (Roshan Prince, Harish Verma, etc.) think this gives them a free pass to pretend to be Sikh when it’s convenient for them. Roshan Prince and Harish Verma in particular wear a kara during interviews. Then, when it’s more commercially viable to be Hindu, they show up in public donning Hindu symbols. What a privilege it must be to be able to “represent” the Sikh community when it financially benefits you and then chameleon your way out of it when it doesn’t. Just because you are Punjabi Hindu doesn’t mean you are an honorary Sikh. It also doesn’t mean you can’t someday agree to be Sikh but co-opting Sikh symbols while being Hindu is strange. These guys belong to the 87 percent majority religious community in India, why are they pretending they don’t?
I am not a zealot. I have non-Sikh friends who wear karas and attend Gurdwara. None of these folks are making money off of these activities though. Hindu dominated Bollywood is stealing Sikh identity markers and inserting them into films in a deliberate effort to erase the distinct history of the Sikhs and make cash in the process. The Singh Sabha movement and other pivotal moments in the struggle show us that Sikhs will be fine despite the onslaught of propaganda promoting misconceptions about Sikhi. Nonetheless, it’s important to let these puppeteers in Bollywood know someone is watching and noticing their subtle moves to erase the Sikh identity.