At first, we only hear our protagonist in Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year. He’s frantically typing to find out how he’s fared in his college exams. The camera zeroes in on the name of Harpreet Singh Bedi with 38% and ‘pass’ written beside it. There’s a pause, not the dramatic one where the music soars and the frame freezes. But an assured one that allows the moment to play out, and that’s when we see the satisfied glint in our protagonist’s eyes. This isn’t your usual Bollywood underdog, who whines about how he’ll land a job with such low percentage. Ranbir Kapoor’s Harpreet Singh Bedi is intelligent enough to understand that good grades have nothing to do with being street-smart.
The film also did away with lazy Sardar stereotypes and in fact, and turned its turbaned protagonist into a statement of sorts. Harpreet Singh Bedi didn’t speak with his arms raised in balle balle fashion, nor did he have a volume that would shatter goblets. Where he lived (in suburban Mumbai) there wasn’t any mention of sarson ke khet and/or tractors… or for that matter anyone saying something as incredulous as ‘tussi jaa rahe ho… tussi na jao.‘ Nope, that exists only in the simplistic setting of a Karan Johar film.
Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year is more. Ranbir Kapoor is nearly flawless as the earnest and suave Sardar. He negotiates with skill, argues with passion, sells like his life was on the line.
Many might call Rajkumar Hirani as the successor for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s brand of comedies, but purely on Khosla Ka Ghosla and Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year, the honour should be bestowed on Jaideep Sahni. The way Sahni recreates the air inside a middle-class home, it’s hardly surprising that director Shimit Amin went for a series of exquisitely framed shots inside a Punjabi middle-class home, for the film’s opening credits. Sahni’s hero is an everyday Sardar boy, who quietly fears the vaaheguru picture that he’s set as the screen-saver of his computer. It’s these ingrained values in him, that prompt him to brush his teeth after a late night with friends and alcohol.
Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year is that rare Utopian Hindi film that gives us an underdog, who wouldn’t compromise on his ideals come hell or high water. The protagonist wouldn’t do anything twisted, even when he gets thrown out of his own company. Instead, Sahni takes the hard way out by making the antagonist realise his mistake. Sahni’s world is idealistic, liberally assumes the real world is as conscientious as him. And Ranbir Kapoor’s protagonist is an underdog who not just fights for his world in the place WITH his limitations, but also destroys Bollywood’s perception of Punjabi characters. Always the expendable character and/or used as the comic relief, Harpreet Singh Bedi is firmly rooted in Sahni’s minutely-observed world.
As Shimit Amin & Jaideep Sahni’s Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year turns 9 today, it would do us some good to recognise Bollywood’s most unusual underdog. Harpreet Singh Bedi came out trumps by simply burying his adversaries with his good nature and kindness. It’s aspirational, wasn’t that what a Hindi film ka hero was all about?