Punjabi pop singers now swing to Bollywood beats

  • Punjabi music is the second most streamed category after Hindi in music streaming platforms
  • According to data, Punjabi music makes up 15% of its consumption as compared to 52% for Hindi music

New Delhi: Popular Punjabi singers who have gained pan-India appeal are increasingly training their eyes on Bollywood. Comedy drama Khandaani Shafakhana that released last Friday saw Punjabi music sensation Badshah share screen space along with main lead Sonakshi Sinha.

Badshah follows in the footsteps of names such as Diljit Dosanjh whose latest film Arjun Patiala hit the screens last month, and who made his Hindi film debut three years ago with director Abhishek Chaubey’s crime drama Udta Punjab. Next year, Punjabi pop singers Harrdy Sandhu and Ammy Virk will both be seen in director Kabir Khan’s sports drama ’83 where they star alongside Ranveer Singh. Virk and Sandhu play supporting characters, cricketers Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Madan Lal, respectively, to Singh’s Kapil Dev.

To be sure, roping in these artists, who are without doubt known across the country now, is a certain way of adding to the appeal around a film. Punjabi, as a language, has a substantial chunk of audience base on music streaming platforms, and many Punjabi chartbusters surpass numbers notched up by Bollywood hits.

“Some of the songs of these artistes have gone on to do huge numbers so it is a great way to leverage that fan base and engagement into movies. Engaging content and leveraging that with creative talent with a huge fan base is a great way to expand the overall potential of a movie," said Sanujeet Bhujabal, marketing director, Sony Music India that manages a number of Punjabi musicians. He added that the trend of Punjabi singers featuring in Hindi films is here to stay and will extend to the world of influencers.

“For the music stars, it’s a different kind of creative expression that they would like to present to their fans," Bhujabal added, something pop star Badshah agreed with.

“When I was approached (for the film), I was scared as I didn’t think I could do it but I eventually enjoyed the experience as acting is a very different form of creative work. It’s great to see some new faces (on screen), moviemakers are looking for faces that are new yet relatable," Badshah said, adding that the trend is already quite popular in English-language films, with singers Rihanna and Ed Sheeran doing films like Ocean’s 8 and Yesterday, respectively.

Khandaani Shafakhana director Shilpi Dasgupta said Badshah was her first choice for the flamboyant character in her film, his off-screen projected image completely matching the role. While the fan base of these singers in undeniable, what’s more important is that they should be well-versed with emoting in front of the camera and that the story should demand their personality, Dasgupta said.

To be sure, the rapid and almost revolutionary rise of Punjabi music across the country, has much to do with this trend. Making up 14-15% of the consumption on music streaming platforms, it is the second most streamed category after Hindi music but growing faster than the latter. According to 2018 data from Hungama Music app, owned by Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, Punjabi music makes up 15% of its consumption as compared to 52% for Hindi music. Further, three of the top 10 songs on Gaana, the audio streaming service owned by Times Internet Ltd, in 2018—Yo Yo Honey Singh’s Dil Chori (Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety), Guru Randhawa’s independent single Lahore and Badshah’s Tareefan (Veere Di Wedding)—are all chartbusters with strong Punjabi tones. Along with Namaste England’s Proper Patola and Tumhari Sulu’s Ban Ja Tu Meri Rani, these Punjabi tracks, some featured in Hindi films, have notched up around 50 million playouts on Gaana, the platform says, two-three times the figures of some Bollywood hits.

Mint had earlier reported that the sheer volume of Punjabi numbers, along with the presence of Diljit Dosanjh and Badshah on mainstream television shows like Koffee With Karan, are strong indicators of the crossover of Punjabi music artistes to the hearts and playlists of pan-India audiences over the last two years.

“Punjabi music brings a smile to the face, makes you want to dance and somehow people who don’t even understand Punjabi are seen lip-synching to the music. It has this ability and therefore cuts across geographies," Badshah said.

Fuelling the same further, streaming platforms had started to bring out original music videos featuring Punjabi artistes a couple of years ago, like Dosanjh’s Laembadgini that showcased their comfort with the camera.

“Some of these artistes did not have that mass appeal, so the idea was to create that entire distribution and marketing platform for them," said Prashan Agarwal, chief executive of Gaana. “Plus, in the Punjabi industry, there is a culture of singers graduating to become actors, from Gippy Grewal and Diljit Dosanjh to Ammy Virk and Jassie Gill. So they understand acting, have gone through some kind of a rigour there, and as they get opportunities in mainstream Bollywood, they are able to prove themselves."

To be sure, given their distinctly Punjabi identities, some experts say breaking out to do varied roles may not be every singer’s cup of tea. As of now, no Punjabi singer, including Badshah, Dosanjh, Virk and Sandhu, seems to be playing a non-Punjabi character.

“A lot of these artistes start off with a Punjabi kind of a role, which is much easier for them to pull off given their background. Some of them may graduate to much stronger roles, but my hunch is that a majority will continue to be in Punjabi-dominated roles for the next one or two years," Agarwal said.

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