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Do Women In Punjabi Popular Music Have Any Agency Of Their Own?

In northern India, university fests and wedding programmes are impossible without Punjabi pop music. Be it Honey Singh, Guru Randhawa or Mika, Punjabi music somehow finds away in our daily lives. I often wondered if Punjabi music has any sustainability in other parts of the country. I recently happened to attend a wedding in south-east India, and to my surprise, the mehendi function, haldi, bride’s entry, all of it, were etched with Punjabi songs in the background. We intentionally or unintentionally consume Punjabi popular music, and if it happens through a child who you find humming, ‘tujh jaisi to pat jaati hain phir durghatna ghat jaati hai’’, (girls like you are wooed easily, then accidents happen- the word accident can mean anything here) then do imagine the horror!

Two of the Punjabi songs found enormous popularity recently, and the songs were ‘Lamberghini’ by The Doorbeen and ‘Sakhiyaan’ by Maninder Buttar. In the former song, the girl is seen pleading to get a ride in a Lamborghini. The entreating tone of the song finds a resemblance with an old Punjabi song, Laung Gwacha where the girl pleads with her lover to find her lost nose pin.

The theme of Sakhiyaan is far more beseeching, where a solemn-looking girl pleads with her boyfriend to give her time. She goes on to say that for her, he is the only one while he has many friends. She is requesting him to take her out, take her to the theatre, and to cajole her once in a blue moon when she gets angry with him. The girl also has a problem with him having female friends. The song is uncannily similar to the film Roy’s ‘Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan’, only a bit sadder.

With the wave of songs with the woman playing only one role and that is of requesting and begging a man to get her something, I wonder if the women of Punjabi music have any agency of themselves at all! Film Scholar, Laura Mulvey while talking about the male gaze in films had said, “In their traditional exhibitionist role, women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact, so that they can be said to connote to be- looked-at ness”.

Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: one, as an erotic object for the characters within the screen story and two, as an erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium. This stands true for most of the Hindi films where the camera sexualizes the heroine as she is introduced. But, in the scenario of Punjabi music, the status of women is even worse, where she is not only objectified but also reduced to someone who has cannot do anything on her own.

She has to beg her partner for everything, be it to get her a dress (Song- Lehenga), footwear (Song – Jutti), anklets (Song – Laung Laachi), etc. Her demand for materialism gets condescending as well. The songs like Jaguar, Yaar Bathere, and many unmentionable songs of Honey Singh portrayed women as nothing less than an unfeeling object who want nothing but money, expensive cars, and jewellery.

Character assassination in Punjabi songs is an extremely common theme. Women, often standing at the junction between family and partner, have to carry the weight of responsibilities for both. From being a constant support to her partner to keeping the dignity of the family intact, women’s job is nothing less than a juggler.

In a song, ‘Pag Nu Daag’ by Kanth Kaler, a father tells his daughter that he will provide her with the education on a condition that she would not dirty his turban, that is, will not do ‘anything’ that will cost his reputation. The men in the songs, on the other hand, are seen drinking in public, gambling, sexually harassing girls, objectifying them in the guise of ‘wooing’ them, but nothing of this sort harms the reputation of family and family’s pride, because this is what boys do, this is what makes them a mard.

It is 2020, and women are still struggling to find a voice in our popular culture. Don’t you think it’s high time we say no to such songs that belittle women and come with something meaningful, more sensitized? It is high time that women have an agency of their own!

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