20 Years of Hello Brother: The Embarrassing Yet Enduring Legacy of the “Pungi”

Bollywood

20 Years of Hello Brother: The Embarrassing Yet Enduring Legacy of the “Pungi”

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

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ello Brother is an all-out Khan affair. Produced and directed by Sohail Khan, it stars both Arbaaz and Salman Khan. On the surface, the film suffers from a threadbare plot, bare-minimum effort toward the concept of logic, and Rani Mukherji’s gaudy shades of lipstick. It’s easy to dismiss, essentially two and a half hours worth of audio-visual proof that no matter how old they get, the three Khan brothers will always remain overgrown little boys who consider fart jokes and pulling nose hair as acceptable punchlines. 

When Hello Brother came out in 1999, Salman Khan was about 34 years old. In Bhai years, that must equate to a little older than 13, given almost all the hormonal jocks in my preppy Juhu high school related more with Bhai than they did with any other Bollywood actor. Back then, Bhai’s hunky personna, his frequent run-ins with the law, and his controversy-fuelled relationship with the most beautiful woman in the world made him a sort of a pin-up boy for the angst-ridden urban Indian teen. And Hello Brother furthered that legend. In the film, he plays Hero, a fun-loving but naive employee at A-Z Courier who is betrayed and killed by his own dastardly boss (Shakti Kapoor). However, because of a miraculous heart transplant, his soul continues to live on through Inspector Vishal (Arbaaz Khan). The film’s plot is perhaps a true representation of just how ridiculously over-the-top Bollywood was in the ’90s.

Yet, the cult of Bhai, dominant as it is, is overshadowed by one of Hello Brother’s enduring immature gifts: introducing juvenile jocks to the concept of “Pungi”. There’s a scene where Hero meets with a minor accident and takes revenge by proceeding to dish out a Pungi to the rickshaw driver at fault. You see, the principles of Pungi are simple: You approach your unsuspecting victim and while using your fingers to do the job of a pair of tweezers, you proceed to twist the poor lad’s nipples. In 2019, this is just the kind of thing that is a flagbearer of inappropriate behaviour, but in the hallways of Mumbai’s Utpal Shanghvi School back in 2001, a time when we boys lacked foresight and sensitivity, this was just a friendly way of greeting your homies. No free period was complete without a boy having his nipples twisted while the entire class yelled “pungiiiii”. 

But if you thought nipple-tweaking was the only thing Hello Brother corrupted adolescent minds with, you’d be wrong.

It is exactly this level of immature tomfoolery that Hello Brother invoked in teenage boys. Each sequence in the film is rife with toilet humour, below the belt innuendo, and an assortment of over-the-top sartorial choices. In the course of the film, Sallu bhai switches from a fluorescent green shirt in “Hataa Sawaan Ki Ghata” to maroon jeans in the annoyingly catchy “Chaandi Ki Daal Par Sone Ka Mor”, proving that Govinda doesn’t have a monopoly in the spectacularly bright outfit market. 

But if you thought nipple-tweaking was the only thing Hello Brother corrupted adolescent minds with, you’d be wrong. A classmate endured a serious beating from his father because he had the audacity to lift up his unsuspecting dad’s lungi, spray some deodorant on his thighs, and loudly declare “Ninjaa Chacha”, in a sort of a bizarre tribute to the character, played by Razak Khan in the film. Not to mention, Neeraj Vora’s whacky depiction of the flatulent senior inspector inspired countless pranks. Another classmate’s parents were called to school because he slyly snuck a fart pillow under his partner’s seat. Now that I look back, it’s impossible not to cringe at the fact that as teenage boys, we looked at Hello Brother for inspiration.

Two decades later, much like Tumko Na Bhool Paayenge and Jaanam Samjha Karo, Hello Brother remains one of those trashy Bhai movies that you’d find yourself inclined to watching when you’re with your friends, partly for shaking your head at its juvenile humour and partly for self-reflection. Because when it’s 2 am and you’re four drinks down, American sitcoms can’t hold a candle to Johnny Lever exchanging Bambaiya insults with Razak Khan. And really, what can hold your attention like a wobbly Shakti Kapoor mock-karate chopping Salman Khan? But guilty pleasure aside, Hello Brother is possibly a true reflection of how much we’ve evolved, that is until someone yells “pungi” and I instinctively cover my nipples in fear.

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