Bhangra meets Bollywood in 'Bhangra Paa Le'

Sunny Kaushal

Sunny Kaushal  

Actors Sunny Kaushal and Rukshar Dhillon on bringing the famous Punjabi folk dance to the big screen

Ten years ago, when Jon M. Chu’s Step Up 3D hit theatres, Sunny Kaushal joined its audiences thrice. “Once [I watched it] with my friends,” says the 30-year-old, his voice still struck with awe, “and twice I went alone to just get the experience. It globally changed the language of dance and how you could incorporate technology into dancing.” His Bhangra Paa Le (BPL) co-star, Rukshar Dhillon, similarly reveres Shaad Ali’s 2005 comedy Bunty Aur Babli for its dance numbers (Vaibhavi Merchant won an award for choreographing Kajra Re). Both have been dancing for as long as they can remember, mimicking dance routines and choreographing entire sets with their siblings. And for both, films played a huge part in their love for grooving. Over telephonic conversations, it’s clear the young actors hope to create a similar legacy with BPL, a musical drama by debuting director Sneha Taurani, which also featuring Shriya Pilgaonkar.

Cultural call

Centred on an all-India bhangra competition and an apotheotic dance battle that takes place in London, the film follows a young dancer Jaggi (Kaushal) and his rivalry with Simi (Dhillon). Simi is refreshingly, an unapologetically competitive and focused woman, and what drew Dhillon to the spunky character was her relationship with her mother. “[It is] the kind of mother-daughter relationship where you don’t have to say much,” says Dhillon, “She understands your dreams and goals, and I think they become her dreams and goals too.”

Rukshar Dhillon

Rukshar Dhillon  


For Dhillon, Simi’s relationship seemed like a reflection of her mother’s unwavering support as she made the unexpected turn towards acting after pursuing a degree in fashion design. The 26-year-old actor got her break in commercials before she debuted in the Kannada action thriller Run Antony (2016) and a number of Telugu films. Her co-star Kaushal’s start in the industry, however, was behind the camera as an assistant director on the Prateik Babbar and Kalki Koechlin-starrer My Friend Pinto (2011), and Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday (2014). After debuting on the screen with the 2016 comedy road film Sunshine Music Tours and Travels, and following it with the sports drama Gold (2018), Kaushal gravitated to BPL because he was surrounded by Punjabi music and bhangra growing up. “It was an opportunity to do something for my culture,” he says.

Evolving form

Associated closely with celebrating the spring harvest, the folk dance now has travelled along with Indian diaspora across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. To highlight one of its contemporary forms, Dhillon explains that the choreographies for the film offer a fusion of the folk dance with hip-hop – in contrast to the sections of the film that unfold in the 1940s.

While BPL borrows its title from the 1995 hit number from the reincarnation drama Karan Arjun, and the film’s release commemorates 25 years of Karan Arjun, the homage does not spill over beyond the eponymous title track. But BPL weaves together the past and the present much like the ’95 blockbuster. Kaushal explains while the film revolves around the Punjabi folk dance, it is also about the coming of age of Jaggi. The actor plays Jaggi’s grandfather, Kaptaan, whose legacy is the dance form. “[Jaggi] is learning what his grandfather’s story really is – between [Jaggi’s] interpretation and [the truth],” says Kaushal. On stepping into the two distinct characters, he shares, “I just had to get in touch with my arrogant guy to play Jaggi! He walks like he owns the place, and his chest is always [puffed] out. But Kaptaan is soft-spoken and has a little bit of a hunch.”

Geared up for the release, Kaushal already has a slate of films lined up for the new year – from Hurdang starring Vijay Varma and Nushrat Bharucha to Shiddat with Diana Penty, Radhika Madan and Mohit Raina and Kabir Khan’s Amazon Prime show The Forgotten Army. Dhillon can’t wait to share what’s on her plate, but that will have to wait for another time.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 5:10:03 PM |

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