Amitoj Maan’s ‘Gadaar – the Traitor’ is a much better movie than last summer’s ‘Punjab 1984′. Both films depict events from nineteen-eighties’ and nineties’ Punjab, but unlike Anurag Singh’s whitewashed and Delhi-friendly version of history, Gadaar manages to tell some real truths to the audience. Starring Harbhajan Maan in his best performance yet, Gadaar is an action packed thriller interspersed with betrayal, trauma and a perfectly executed soundtrack by Dr. Zeus and Jaidev Kumar.
In ‘Gadaar’, Maan plays Jai Singh – a kind of modern-day Punjabi James Bond. He’s a mysterious, handsome bachelor who nobody knows anything about. The opening scenes of the movie show Jai and his entourage on a tour of his offices and companies. Jai goes ski-ing, has a bunch of Eastern-European looking girls on his yacht and really awesome side swooped hair. The beginning is probably the cheesiest and worst part of the movie, although it’s still not that bad. As an audience you can tell that there is a purpose to this debauchery; you just know that this movie is going to get interesting.
Jai’s story gets very interesting indeed. After receiving a letter from his dead grandfather’s lawyer, Jai learns that his traumatizing youth in 1990s Punjab is coming back to haunt him. The myth that Sikhs should forget and move on from the past is squarely addressed here. It’s simple – you cannot forget even if you wanted to. Making money, drinking alcohol, creating charities —none of it made Jai’s bad memories go away. In the end he had to address the injustice.
On another note, this film is very Harbhajan Maan centered. But even if you can’t stand his ‘Kermit the frog’ voice or are jealous of his youthful looks, I promise you can still enjoy ‘Gadaar’! He does really great this time around, whilst the rest of the cast does OK too. As usual though, Punjabi movies forget there are women in this world and females play a perfunctory background role in ‘Gadaar’.
The real problem with ‘Gadaar’, and all Punjabi movies for that matter is the Indian censors. Saying ‘Gadaar’ is a good movie is a relative statement. If Amitoj Maan had free reign, I doubt he’d never say the word “Sikh” in his script. I wonder if he and the actors even believe one of the movie’s final scenes when someone half-heartedly says something akin to, “good thing we solved this problem and no more atrocities will ever happen again in India.” This part wasn’t funny but I laughed. Really, dear censors? You had to stick that statement in there didn’t you? (Unfortunately, atoricites did happen just a few days after the film’s release date in Jammu culminating with an activist, Jagjeet Singh’s death.) Another issue I have with the Indian censors is how they insist on protecting Hindu sentiments by only approving scripts that make Punjab’s atrocities seem like they were perpetrated by rogue bad cops and politicians. Movies never show how human rights violations were Government planned, systematic and widespread. The residue of censorship is everywhere if you look closely.
Ultimately though, ‘Gadaar’ is a good movie. Everyone involved did a decent job tip-toeing the Indian Government’s fine line without coming off like total sell-outs. It deserves 4 out of 5 stars.