Harinder Kour on Kali Jotta, her aspiration as a writer: ‘Punjabi films fail to create the balance in terms of gender’ | Regional News

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Screenwriter-lyricist Harinder Kour has had a charmed beginning as a writer in Punjabi cinema. Her debut film, Kali Jotta (2023), directed by Vijay Kumar Arora and starring Neeru Bajwa in the lead role, tells the story of a woman who faces extreme mental harassment and prejudice, which breaks her. Despite an unusual theme, the film became a blockbuster hit, and is number 10 in the list of biggest hits in Punjabi cinema.

In an exclusive chat, Kour spoke about her inspiration for the film, “This subject was running in my mind for the last 5-6 years but I did not have the confidence that I could take this story to people in the industry. I started sharing it with Vijay Kumar Arora or Dadu…and I was not sure whether or not he would make it. But he liked it so much that he said that we will try to make this film”.

Kali Jotta tells the story of an effervescent girl, Rabiya (Neeru Bajwa), who is heartbroken at her lover getting married to another woman. Working as a school teacher, she is judged by society for being a young, unmarried woman and finds herself vulnerable in front of men in positions of power. Although she tries to combat their advances, she is harassed and abused. Wrecked by the lewd moves and subsequent molestation, she suffers a mental breakdown. The film deals with the effect of abuse on a woman’s psyche, a theme never seen before in Punjabi cinema. In fact, the exploration of gender violence itself rarely finds its way in narratives that are largely centered around men.

Reflecting on the examination of gender in popular Punjabi cinema, Kour said, “There is a balance that is needed in scripts but somewhere I feel that Punjabi films lacked in creating a good balance. Gender is usually only talked about in romantic relationships and how women are objectified and treated as commodities. The narrative has always been hero based. There are a few films that have taken a different approach but not in that depth when it comes to gender.”

“Punjabi cinema is gradually growing and I’m sure that these kinds of concepts and themes will come in. But till now, films have mainly been made from the point of view of entertainment and business. In this, the themes, story, narrative, characters have been left behind and so, gender also has not been explored so much. Although that has not changed so much, but I can say that people are trying.”

Speaking about Kali Jotta, which is emotionally intense in its portrayal of Rabiya’s mental agony, Kour spoke about why it was crucial for her to bring forth the mental impact of gender injustice, “My own journey as a girl and the observations of my surroundings made me realise how gender plays a major role, especially in Punjabi society and its institutions, whether it is marriage or relationships. I felt that we focus only on the physical violence, which is visible and we have sympathy and understanding towards it but the ways in which gender politics and mental harassment works minutely, or the layers of patriarchy…I thought how can I portray that in a very simple way so that it is not accessible only to an intellectual audience or specific people. I wanted to make it so simple and subtle so that everybody can feel it and have some thoughts about it. I felt it is very important to talk about this, the invisible form of mental harassment and its layers and the different ways in which women face harm. Those layers were very important for me and we don’t even talk about that,” she explained.

Kour wrote two songs in the recent release, Godday Godday Chaa (2023) which was a light-hearted take on a particular aspect of gender discrimination. Reflecting on the themes that excite her, Kour said, “I don’t want to be limited in the themes I explore in films. I want to write about characters and stories that have not been explored yet, the real characters and real stories based in Punjab. Punjab’s folk characters, society and complexity of gender and social issues, whether it’s drama, comedy, tragedy…I just want to bring more and more Punjabi stories that have not been portrayed yet in cinema. It’s important for them to be explored in mainstream cinema… I want to make cinema’s approach wider so we have stories and characters that appeal to everyone”.

Inspired by the success of her debut film, Kour also feels the responsibility to create stories that will appeal to people who have given her film so much love. She is currently working on a story “about Punjab, about every generation of Punjab and the condition of Punjab today.”



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