The Hindi film industry is no stranger to threat calls from gangsters and members of the underworld. In fact, it acted as muse for the genre of gangster films that reaped good dividends.
Seemingly, an almost similar scenario is now being replayed in the Punjabi entertainment industry. The recent shootout incident involving video director, singer and actor Parmish Verma reportedly by a gangster Dilpreet Singh Dhahan brings forth some concerns and questions, which the Punjabi entertainment industry is not comfortable talking about — the unexpected and uncomfortable intrusion of gangsters in the industry.
After the attack, police officials investigating the case say that the attack on Verma is the result of not complying with extortion calls being made to him by the Punjab gangsters. For the industry insiders, these extortion calls are not a recent phenomenon.
Music producer and promoter Bunty Bains has often spoken candidly about threat calls that many Punjabi singer-actors get either from unhappy fans on the social media to express their dislike or the so-called badshah log. “A month back, while returning from work late at night some miscreants followed my car. They’d covered their faces so I couldn’t recognise them. I was scared that they wanted to kidnap me,” says Bains on a grim note. A few days after this incident, someone vandalised his Audi car parked outside his house. Even though the police could not establish the role of any gang or criminal in it, Bains is certain that gangsters have trained their sights on the Punjabi entertainment industry, especially the singers.
Bollywood has long been vulnerable to dons and their extortion calls, a scenario that is, in all likelihood, now being replicated in the Punjabi film and music industry, with its rising popularity and resulting riches. Even though Punjabi films are still quite far from entering the Rs 100-crore club, the singer-actor fraternity on its own is doing pretty good for itself — which is also being cited as one of the reasons behind the extortion calls.
Deepak Gupta, who produced Punjabi comedy film, Mr and Mrs 420, does not mince words while talking about the new-found rich status of the artistes in the industry. “Today, any Punjabi singer is making nearly Rs 10 lakh- Rs 20 lakh per month. They flaunt a rich lifestyle, stay in flats worth crores and have every hi-end luxury gadget you can think of. They wear designer clothes and drive flashy cars. All this has attracted uninvited attention. The rich lifestyles and the ringing cash registers at the boxoffice are major reasons behind extortion calls and threats.” Gupta rules out the possibility of ‘gangster songs’ having to do anything with the shooting incident. “Gangsters will be more than happy if Punjabi singers popularise them in their songs, they shouldn’t have any problem with what they sing,” he adds. However, the ‘nature and content of lyrics of present-day Punjabi songs’ have not gone down well with many people, especially those who feel that singers are ruining the Punjabi culture and maa boli.
Last month gangster-turned-social activist Lakha Sidhana from Bathinda openly spoke about the negative impact of Punjabi singer Mankirat Aulakh’s songs on youngsters. Speaking at Kariwala Kabaddi tournament recently, he said Mankirat’s songs ‘Gangland’, ‘Badnam’, ‘Jail’ glorify gangsters and promote violence. “Singers like Mankirat Aulakh and Sidhu Moosewala are promoting violence and drinking in Punjab. Mankirat talks about his reach and nexus with gangsters in his song ‘Jail’. Yet another song by Aulakh, ‘Pind tera saara gangland baneya’ shows Punjab as mini gangland,” says Lakha. He wants that people should come forward to stop such singers. “These Punjabi singers are promoting gang wars in Punjab, and if we want to save Punjabi culture, we need to stop them,” he adds.Lakha often uses social media to send his message to the singers.
He is not the only one. Many others are also doing the same. Gurjant Singh Australia actively uses YouTube to criticise and even ‘subtly’ threaten every Punjabi singer to stop singing demeaning and disgraceful songs. Gurjant had posted a video on YouTube after Parmish’s shooting, criticising the attack.
But at the same time, he also says that Punjabi singers need to be taught a lesson though killing someone is not the right way to go about it. Gurjant is not the only one using social media for verbal attacks on Punjabi singer-actors. The YouTube is flooded with videos by fans of Punjabi music threatening various singers to refrain from singing ‘lacharta bharey gaane’ (indecent songs).
Many other fans vent out their anger through FB posts. Social media, in fact, has become the new battle ground for both parties. Ironically, these are same sites which the singers use to promote their songs, or interact with their fans. Minute-by-minute Instagram posts by many Punjabi singers allows their fans to keep a track of singers’ personal lives. Right from their homes to their favourite eating joints to where they would be going next, singers do not shy away from sharing all personal details. This has also made them a soft target. Gurjot S Kaler, DSP (organised crime) Mohali, is also a Punjabi singer and is wary of the heavy-dependence of singers on social media. “Since this is the only platform where they can connect with their fans, singers use this to the fullest. But at the same time they should use the social media judiciously. They should also understand that the police is there to help them, and if any artiste gets any extortion call, it should be reported immediately.”
The heavy dependence of singers on various social media sites is making them susceptible to attacks. It is also being cited as one of the reasons behind attack on Verma. Punjabi critic and casting director Sapan Manchanda says, “I don’t think that drug, alcohol or gangster problem in Punjab is because of the songs or singers. Just because a singer sings about alcohol, doesn’t mean that a youngster listening to it would head straight for the tavern!” But he doesn’t rule out the fact that public at large is miffed with the songs promoting gang wars, alcohol and drugs, etc. “Parmish Verma’s shooting incident should be a warning sign for the rest of the community.”Though the industry refrains from talking about extortion calls or the growing influence of goons, this latest incident has made them rethink about their security detail.
While some singers have beefed up their personal security, adding more bouncers, popular artistes Gippy Grewal and Binnu Dhillon see no reason for worry. “I am here because of my fans, and I do not see any reason why I should run away from them. But yes, artistes do need to take up the security issue seriously and also rethink about our dependence on social media,” shares Binnu Dhillon.