By Harjap Singh Aujla
During the scorching hot summer season of India, the Nightingale of Punjab Surinder Kaur used to fly to North America. Her Canadian host used to be Iqbal Mahal. Two out of her three daughters lived in America and one, a famous Punjabi singer Dolly Guleria lived in Panchkula. During one of her visits to America in the mid-1980s, I invited her for lunch. While accepting the invitation, Surinder Kaur told me that one great lover of art Prof Rajpal Singh will also be coming. I welcomed the suggestion. I asked them to come an hour before lunch time. They both turned up around noon time. This was my first ever meeting with Prof Rajpal Singh.
We started discussion on Punjabi films and Punjabi music. We all agreed that the decades of 1960s and 1970s were the darkest periods of Punjabi cinema. Very few Punjabi films were made and their standard was also abysmally low. All films were made to depict cheap humor. Even the music had taken a turn for the worst.
After lunch, we watched two old Punjabi films “Posti” (1950) and “Kaude Shah” (1953). Both were sent to me by Music Director Sardul Kwatra from California. Surinder Kaur had seen these pictures earlier, but for Rajpal Singh it was his first exposure to these classics. Rajpal Singh liked the acting and the language of heroine Shyama and the character actor Ramesh Thakur. Both hailed from Lahore. We all three agreed that Sardul Kwatra’s music was outstanding.
Then Rajpal Singh switched to art movies made from 1979 to 1981. He spoke highly about film “Chann Pardesi” (1979) and “Long Da Lishkara” (1981-82). Prior to the shooting of “Chann Pardesi”, its producers pooled their resources to make an artistic film. They did not care, if they lost money or not. During its production, they contacted Bollywood’s top singer Mohammad Rafi to do play-back singing for the film. Mohammad Rafi received them well and asked about the story. When the story was told, Mohammad Rafi shook his head and told them that this film will lose money, because Punjabi films are stuck in the rut of humor only films. Since the topic was profound, according to Rafi the film was bound to lose money. Then Mohammad Rafi offered not to charge any money for its songs. This was Mohammad Rafi’s contribution towards eventual losses of the film. But to the surprise of everybody, the film did not lose money. It did very well in Delhi – UP area as due to militancy the business in East Punjab circuit was erratic, but not too bad. Soon afterwards “Long Da Lishkara” was made, which also had a good run at the box-office.
According to Rajpal Singh, these two films laid the foundation of art cinema in Punjab. That was my first and the last meeting with him in America. In India, I met him several times for finalising “Cultural Policy of Punjab”. I am sad, he is no more. Punjabi culture will always miss him.
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