The following is a review of Toofan Singh by respected Sikh author and educator Harjinder Singh. The recently released film depicts the life of famed Punjabi folk-hero Jugraj Singh who was a freedom-fighter for the Khalistan Liberation Force. For more from Harjinder Singh and the Akaal Publishers team, follow them on facebook, twitter or instagram.
To see where you can watch Toofan Singh in your area, check out the images here.
Last Friday, I went to the premier of the Toofan Singh movie. It was held at the plush and world famous Pinewood Studios (London, UK). I have never had a better sound and visual experience of watching a movie, so if you get an invite to Pinewood don’t turn it down! It was second to none.
Writing this review has been quite hard for me as I knew much of Toofan’s story before watching the movie, so apologies if it is not comprehensive.
Toofan means tornado, and this nickname aptly describes the storm that Bhai Jugraj Singh Jee created in Punjab when participating in freedom fighting in the late 1980s. This film is by far the best Punjabi movie produced that I have seen on anything related to the period of 1984 – 1995. It has raised the bar on previous poorer productions and I hope this raising of the bar continues in future movies about this period of recent history.
Bhai Jugraj Singh Jee is referred to as Gurbaaz Singh in the movie and is played by two actors – Damanpreet Singh (as the child/younger Toofan Singh) & Ranjit Bawa (the famous Punjabi singer). Damanpreet’s acting was superb, Ranjit Bawa did a decent job too for a singer. People have criticised the casting of Bawa in the main role due to his diminutive figure – but from what I know this is pretty accurate of what Toofan actually looked like. The movie starts with how the 1984 attack on Sri Darbar Sahib by the Indian government impacts the young Toofan, and shows his family life. His family was poor – they didn’t even have electricity in their home. He was the only son and had five sisters.
Toofan became one of the most famous freedom fighters of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF). The KLF was a formidable force and their leadership and fighters were some of the most exemplary characters of modern Sikh history. They were almost superhuman, and reflected complete determination and an unflinching attitude in battle and principle.
Toofan became famous because his story was in direct contrast to the view propagated of Sikh freedom fighters of this period. He loved people of all faiths, supported them all and participated in civilian reforms through his political power. His story goes against the conventional narrative of a gun-toting terrorist causing havoc. As a freedom fighter, he was both feared and loved. He stopped the evils of dowry and helped people of all faiths to live harmoniously, reintegrating Hindu families who may have left their villages due to fear, and settling disputes.
One of the opening scenes shows Toofan running home to get money to buy ice-creams for some poor girls who couldn’t afford them. This scene personified his character. This was a guy who would dedicate his life to helping the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. He would do this at great personal risk and did not flinch under any pressures. He was advised not to become a freedom fighter. He had five sisters and was advised to support his family instead. But he felt the need to help everyone in Punjab and voluntarily took up the life of a freedom fighter.
As a Sikh he became influenced by Damdami Taksal at a young age, notably by Bhai Manbir Singh Chahehru (in jail at Nabha). He stayed at Mehta – the headquarters of the Taksal – and his main inspirations remained within this circle up until his death in 1990. He worked under the leadership of Jathedar Bhai Avtar Singh Brahma when in the KLF. It was inspiring seeing a towering Brahma being depicted in the movie. This was guy was a true living legend. I got goosebumps every time Brahma’s character came on screen, as I knew of many of his legendary tales including one where his clothes were riddled with bullet holes, yet he survived to tell the story and show the clothes.
Toofan wanted to free the people of Punjab of all social evils and government oppression, choosing to free people from tyrants through the power of the gun to establish peace. The movie shows the despicable torture techniques of Punjab Police. These scenes make hard viewing but accurately display the human rights violations of prisoners in Punjab during this period.
The filmmakers developed a love story into the movie as is seen compulsory by Indian cinema, showing Toofan getting married and having a daughter but continuing to fight against the state. Other plot points can be discerned when you watch the movie. His wife and daughter also met their demise soon after Toofan’s but this isn’t explained when the movie ends.
The movie is essential viewing for all Indians, Punjabis, Sikhs & Khalistanis. The history of this iconic figure needs to be known. When Toofan was martyred in an encounter against the Punjab Police, an estimated 1000 people gathered outside the police station protesting for the release of his body from police custody so that a funeral could be conducted. It is estimated that 400,000 people attended his funeral. He was loved by all Punjabis. Notably, ‘Baba Takhur Singh of Damdami Taksal, Shaheed Major Baldev Singh Ghuman, Simranjit Singh Mann, Bibi Rajinder Kaur Bulara, Bibi Bimal Kaur Khalsa and Justice Ajit Singh Bains all paid homage to the great hero during his antim ardas (cremation). On that day, the president of Sri Hargobindpur’s BJP party, Mr. Darshan Lal Chopra, said that Jugraj Singh was their shield and protected the Hindu’s and today we feel alone after he is gone.’ (source: neverforget1984 dot com).