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Sunny Kaushal: Got blisters performing for Bhangra Paa Le- Cinema express

Sunny Kaushal: I got blisters performing for Bhangra Paa Le

Sunny Kaushal, Rukshar Dhillon, and director Sneha Taurani on the universal appeal of Bhangra

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Published: 01st January 2020

Hindi films centred on dance are no novelty. From V Shantaram’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955) all the way to Remo D’Souza’s ABCD franchise, examples abound. Sneha Taurani’s upcoming film, Bhangra Paa Le, takes off from a familiar setup, but introduces a new element. The musical drama shines a light on Bhangra, the upbeat Punjabi form that transcends time and cultures. Bhangra was originally associated with Vaisakhi, or harvest season, in central Punjab. Over the years, it acquired a more free-form status, and was popularised worldwide by Punjabi pop culture.

Sunny Kaushal, who plays the male lead in Bhangra Paa Le, says there are many facets to the dance he wasn’t aware of. “Being a Punjabi, I was a fairly decent Bhangra dancer from childhood. But doing it on stage with a crew is completely different. I had to learn it from scratch and make tweaks to my posture and knee movements. I trained for four months under our choreographers, Vijay Ganguly and Adil Shaikh. It looks nice and easy, but technically, it’s not.”

The film’s story cuts across two timelines. In the present, Jaggi (Sunny) is a student who wants to showcase his talents on a world stage. He participates in an international dance competition, attempting to fuse Bhangra with western forms. A parallel track follows Jaggi’s grandfather, also played by Sunny, fighting in World War II. Music and dance become the strand that ties off their arcs. “Bhangra Paa Le isn’t just a dance film focused on a competition,” Sunny says. “It’s a really sweet story about generational bonds.”

The parallel narrative also allows for a more authentic representation of the form, he adds. “I remember I was shooting the introductory dance for the grandfather’s part. I decided to do it barefoot, since that’s how Bhangra was originally performed. What I didn’t anticipate was that it was really hot, and the ground was covered in sand. I did it in one take but ended up with blisters on my feet.”

In the film, Sunny is paired opposite Rukshar Dhillon. The London-born actor makes her Bollywood debut with this one. She has previously appeared in the Kannada film Run Anthony (2016) and the Telugu films Aakatayi, Krishnarjuna Yudham, and ABCD – American Born Confused Desi. In Bhangra Paa Le, she plays Simi, a fellow student and Jaggi’s dance rival. Rukshar says she instantly connected to the character because of her Punjabi background. “Simi is a lot like me. She’s a balanced, strong-willed person who wants to make her bebe (mother) proud. She really wants to win the Bhangra battle, but is emotional and softhearted at the same time.”

Rukshar hails Punjabi folk music for its expressive nature. “The beats are such that the energy emanating from that sound is infectious. If you understand music, you don’t really have to get the words. The way they pace and modulate the songs, even a non-dancer can pick up the beats and groove along.”

Director Sneha Taurani agrees with Rukshar. “Through the music, we wanted to bring out the folk roots of Bhangra,” Sneha says. “When we got done with research, we released it has multiple forms like Jhumar, Luddi, and Dhamal. Each of these styles adapts differently to the beat. We tried to integrate the variations into the soundtrack, so that the choreographers could match them accordingly. In all, we have a thrilling 11-track album.” 

Sneha is the daughter of producer Ramesh Taurani. She has assisted directors like Ayan Mukerji, Mohit Suri, and Akarsh Khurrana in the past. With Bhangra Paa Le, her directorial debut, Sneha wanted to tell a story with universal appeal. “There’s a Bhangra week that happens in Vancouver every year. Cornell University has a Bhangra team. Competitions also happen in California and North America. I was fascinated by the global translation of such an old Indian form. I hope that after watching our film, more youngsters are inspired to learn and perform Bhangra.”

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