Why does “Jana Gana Mana” Make Me Cry in Loins of Punjab More Than in K3G?

So, we all watched Loins of Punjab Presents on Friday. And it is funny and heartfelt and sweet and good things. But right at the end there is a sequence with the Indian National Anthem that just makes you start to cry and it’s very strange, because there is no obvious reason it should make you cry. I’ve been thinking about it for a day now and I’m still not sure why it makes me cry, but I think I have a theory.

The end of Loins of Punjab Presents is our funny over-sexed tacky event planner explaining why he is happy that a white man won “desi idol”. It’s the thesis statement for this movie, this movie that is set within the Indian-American community but also within the greater American community:

“Who’s outsider? We are outsider, non-American. But we are inside, we are outsiders inside. Now that we’re inside, can we keep people outside when they’re already in? So forget all this outside-inside. We’re all inside. Even if we were outside once.”

I think what he is talking about is that you have to learn to process hate, and give back love. This movie, very slowly and carefully, builds up the ways minority communities can process hate and give back hate in return. Or, not.

The “Jana Gana” performance is the culmination of three important performances, each of them from people who were made “outside” by the desi society within America, an oppressed minority that was excited to further oppress anyone who didn’t live up to their standards.

Ajay Naidu’s character is a frustrated artist, a gay man, and a second generation Indian-American trying to find his place in the world. He is always ready for a fight, always ready to defend who he is. But what he really wants is just to give his music to people. He breaks on stage for that, he doesn’t care about a record contract or a making the news or anything else, he just wants a chance to perform and give people his music. And it works! The crowd loves him, and he loves them. No one cares any more that he has been walking around the hotel holding hands with his African-American partner all week, they just love his music and accept him as one of them.

Then there’s Seema Rehmani’s performance. At first the crowd is quick to accept an excuse to consider her “less than” they are because she does not speak Hindi. She is an “outsider” because of that and they can enjoy feeling like “insiders”. But all it takes is one person to speak up for her, one person to argue that this is wrong, and the crowd turns the other way. They will happily take this “outsider” back “inside” with them.

Finally, “Jana Gana” sung by our white American man. He is the ultimate American “insider”, but in this community within America he is an “outsider”. He could have reacted to this unaccustomed persecution with anger, or simple hurt, but instead he stands in front of them and takes in all their hate and gives back love, sings out the Indian National Anthem and tells them “you may hate me, but I still love you”.

That’s why the crowd stands. It’s not about “India is better than America”, it is about “I remember all of a sudden what it is like to feel part of something greater”. Josh respects who they are and accepts all their hate and gives back love, and they stand and cheer for that, for remembering they have more in common than differences, for accepting that they are now Indians in America, they will stand for their anthem and they will applaud the white man who is singing it to them.

In Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, there is a similar moment when the British school children sing “Jana Gana”. But I think what makes the difference in that movie is that it is all from the perspective of the folks on the inside of the outsider community. We have no sympathy for the white people around them, no sense that they should be trying to build connections across those borders. “Jana Gana” in that movie is saying “Indians in the diaspora deserve to feel respected”. “Jana Gana” in this movie is saying “all people deserve respect and love”. Just because you were on the outside once doesn’t give you the right to put anyone else on the outside. You should all be inside together.

Is that right? Is that what it is like for you? Or at least partly what it is like for you? I’m still not sure why or how that moment goes from shocking and a little funny to tear inducing, but it really hit on something special.

11 thoughts on “Why does “Jana Gana Mana” Make Me Cry in Loins of Punjab More Than in K3G?

  1. I think part of it is the girlfriend who is able to embrace her culture because she sees her boyfriend embracing it. She’s the one who inspires him to sing the anthem and I think that’s part of what makes it an emotional moment. Everyone sees his love of India and it reminds them that they love India too.

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    • I didn’t see the girlfriend quite that way, her struggle wasn’t with embracing her identity as Indian heritage, but with figuring out how to have a white boyfriend. So in that way, everyone learns to embrace a new definition of their Indian identity in a way that can accept a white American man singing their National anthem.

      On Sat, Jun 20, 2020 at 10:51 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I think you’re spot on about JGM in this film. He reacts with respect even though they’re yelling at him. Even though the band pretends they don’t know the song he wanted to sing. It’s the ultimate show of respect to a culture he loves, with no promise of anything in return.

    In K3G, I agree that it’s about respect for Indians in the diaspora, but it’s a scene that falls short for me because it’s so set up…so much complaining by Anjali about feeling like an outsider…in LOP it came as a beautiful surprise rather than the K3G version – a predictable way to assuage Anjali for the moment.

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    • I also feel like K3G in general was dealing with the diaspora in a very superficial way. The national anthem was part of recognizing they were essentially Indian, not British. While in this movie, it feels more complicated. I can’t even fully articulate it, but these were not characters dreaming of returning to the homeland, the anthem wasn’t about that, it was about nostalgia maybe? Or a shared past? Or an awareness of how far they had come?

      On Sun, Jun 21, 2020 at 1:01 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Right, K3G wasn’t really about the diaspora, the diaspora was just a symbol of Rahul’s (and the family’s) separation from the parents.

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      • Ooh, this is such an interesting conversation. Here’s my perspective. A version of this happened to me living abroad but it’s clearer to me through my husband’s experience. A lot of Spanish people have a complicated relationship to their flag and anthem and collective expressions of national identity because they are still associated with the Franco dictatorship, when they were enforced as part of an oppressive state. When people move to a different country, though, an identity that is complicated and nuanced when you’re in your home country is flattened by the experience of being an immigrant. You go from being this kind of family from this neighborhood of this city in this region to whatever the people in the new country understand about your home – maybe a language, a certain dish, a vague geographical orientation. In this context, symbols that have complicated associations at home become welcome as at least accurate identifiers of where you’re from, a starting point that can tie you to other people who may have very different experiences and identities in your home country but a similar immigrant experience to yours.

        I didn’t rewatch Loins of Punjab with you all, but from what I remember of that scene, I like the outsider giving back love reading. And in the audience, maybe that kind of bemused collectivism you sometimes discover as an immigrant. Flattening the complexities of identity can sometimes help you to see each other just as humans.

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        • Thank you so much for your perspective! I was struggling with the meaning of the anthem because sometimes it means what I will call “Franco-like” sentiments. Blind patriotism and superiority and so on. I’ve been in movie theaters a couple of times when it felt like that, and suddenly I felt excluded from the joint emotion, considered less-than. But this didn’t feel like that, it felt like everyone united in a surprising moment of collectivism, which expanded to include the white American who was singing the song.

          On Sun, Jun 21, 2020 at 4:11 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I haven’t seen this film and thus didn’t read the post, but I wanted to note that, if the song in question is the Indian national anthem, its correct title is “Jana Gana Mana”. There’s no “hai” at the end of it, nor can it be shortened to only the first two words.

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  4. My first emotional reaction was more to the fact that his girlfriend was back. India’s national anthem had kind of been established as “their song”, so it was immediately a romantic moment. She believed in him and his right to feel close to India.

    I feel like the onscreen audience would have been kind of manipulated by that song choice. They had to show their respect for their anthem and would have been forced to process their feelings about the white guy in that context. Very effective – though I don’t think that would have been intentional on Josh’s part. He just chose a song that the band couldn’t deny knowing.

    And yes, the moment his song choice became clear, I thought, “well, the white guy wins after all.” That speech afterwards about outsiders was really necessary to put it in context.

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    • I agree, I don’t think Josh was trying to manipulate. And the first few people in the audience who stood, they had a confused look on their faces like “wait, now I have to stand and listen to this guy? What’s happening?” But by the end of the song, somehow it ended up meaning something to everyone there.

      Maybe that’s it? Maybe it’s about just accepting that things mean different things to different people and all are equally valid? For Josh and his girlfriend, this was a romantic moment. For the older audience members, it was an instinctive moment of reacting to their childhood training. For the younger audience, it was about feeling respected and at home in their country. but no one was more “right” than anyone else?

      On Sun, Jun 21, 2020 at 10:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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