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Remembering The Comedy King of Bollywood: Johnny Walker 

Remembering the art of comedy left behind by the iconic comedian and film actor, Johnny Walker, on his 95th birth anniversary.

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Johnny Walker

Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi, or better known by his stage name, Johnny Walker, was born in 1926, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. His father was a mill worker and had 10 children, including Johnny Walker. Born and raised under the British Raj, amidst 9 siblings, and in a financially struggling family, dreaming about making it to the film industry was a farce for him. 

After his father lost his job, they moved to Maharashtra. The brunt of earning came upon Johnny. While he worked as a fruit seller, some days a vegetable vendor, and other days sold stationery, his youthful dream of working in movies never left him. Working as a bus conductor in the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) bus service. It was the best thing that could have happened to him. It was his destiny to be recruited by BEST!

This was because, as a conductor, he used to entertain his passengers. He was indeed a born actor and a comedian. His passengers had fits of laughter over his excellent natural humour and quirky imitations. During this time, Balraj Sahni spotted him. Sahni was writing a story for the movie ‘Baazi’ and asked Walker to present his skills and enact the character of a drunkard to Guru Dutt, the renowned Indian film director, producer, and writer. Badruddin’s acting impressed Guru Dutt. So, of course, Guru Dutt offered him a role in the movie ‘Baazi’. This was how the stage name, ‘Johnny Walker’, was given to Badruddin based on a Scotch whiskey brand. 

Dialogues, Scenes, and the Rise to Popularity 

Johnny had a good relationship with Guru Dutt. Guru loved Johnny’s acting and his skills at spontaneity and improvisation. Johnny came with new ideas with each of his dialogues, which delighted Guru Dutt a lot. 

Johnny didn’t play minor comedian roles only. He was mostly allotted ‘drunkard’ roles. Against these roles, Johnny also proved himself as a hero and villain character. Playing ‘Baiju’ in ‘Choomantar’ (1956), he impresses the heroine through songs and competes against villains. As ‘Parker’ in ‘Mai Baap’, Johnny shows his wicked side. He plays the cunning villain in this movie. In movies where he had less screen time, he made even his one-minute appearance dominant. 

Johnny, as a comedian actor, throughout his journey, showed extreme versatility and dexterity. Not only was he extremely passionate about his roles, but in each role, one gets to see the different lights under which comedy can also be performed. 

Awards and Achievements

Johnny worked in more than 300 films. He won several awards for his excellent acting. ‘Chachi 420’ was the last movie of his that made it to the screens. He played the role of a makeup artist with a bottle of alcohol. In 2003, he passed away. Johnny’s powerful presence in the movies has immortalised him. On his 95th birth anniversary, visit some of his movies: Pyaasa, Mr. and Mrs. 55, Mai Baap, Choomantar, and Shikaar. Johnny Walker induced a new meaning to comedy. He will always be a legend

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Humara Spectrum

Pride In Stories: 10 LGBTQ+ Books by Indian Authors

We’ve rounded up some excellent LGBTQ+ books, both fiction and nonfiction, by Indian authors that you must check out.

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The stories and narratives of the queer community and homosexuality have never found a place in mainstream India. Only recently, one can find stacks of queer and LGBTQ+ books amongst the many fiction and nonfiction paperbacks. Especially in India, the fight for gay rights had been extremely difficult. Considering a time of post 2000s in India, it was impossible to write novels and stories on homosexuality, or for gay writers to write their own memoirs freely and openly lest they be charged under obscenity. Since, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and eradicating hetero-normativity continues, we’ve rounded up some LGBTQ+ books, by Indian authors, both fiction and nonfiction, from different eras of India, that you must check out to gain insight, learn, unlearn, introspect, and also identify your own selves. 

Kari by Amruta Patil

Kari is an LGBTQ+ graphic fiction novel by Amruta Patil, India’s first female graphic author. The novel follows the visible and hidden struggles of a lesbian couple – Kari (the protagonist) and Ruth. The events unfold in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, highlighting that even the progressive of the cities are deeply hetero-normative. Amruta Patil has used unapologetically raw and powerful illustrations for the novel, which will speak to you louder than words. 

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

Funny Boy is a LGBTQ+ book, narrating the story of Arjie, born in a wealthy Tamil family, who prefers dressing as a girl and playing with his girl cousins rather than play cricket with his brother. His father sends him to a school which would spark the ‘masculine’ in him. The novel consists of six stories, narrating Arjie’s coming of age and his exploration of his sexuality. All this is present against the background of political unrest in Sri Lanka. Shyam Selvadurai gives a poignant vision of the political and the personal, which will offer you a plethora of socio-political insights.

Lihaaf by Ismat Chugtai

Lihaaf was written in 1942, in unpartitioned India, when the norms of the society were stricter, rigid and even more conservative than what we’ve today. Lihaaf is one of many of Ismat Chugtai’s bold and unapologetic stories. This novel even landed Ismat Chughtai in a criminal offence for ‘obscenity.’ This fiction is written from the point of view of a little girl who visits the household of Begum Jaan and his husband Nawab Sahab. Nawab Sahab, however, stays away from home most of the time, engaged in other businesses. Begum Jaan yearns for a relationship of love in her loneliness. This is when she finds it with a female servant. Since the story is told by the pov of a little girl, Ismat Chughtai, very wittingly uses indirect words and actions to convey the homosexual acts which unfold between the two. 

Loving Women: Being Lesbian in Underprivileged India by Maya Sharma

This nonfiction LGBTQ+ book is a collection of ten stories based on research. These stories are not from the elitist points of view, but Maya Sharma brings the stories of lesbians from the underprivileged sections of India, particularly rural India. The writer tracks how the women’s movement in India has failed to include female sexuality. This is an exceptionally insightful read on homosexuality, with a different research methodology. 

A life Apart by Neel Mukherjee

A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee is a fiction, a story within a story. Simply stated, it is a story of two migrants. Ritwik is a young gay Indian man travels from India to UK after the death of his parents and takes up a scholarship to study English literature at Oxford. He wants to build his future far from painful memories of Calcutta. During his stay, Ritwik pens down the story of an educated British woman, Miss Gilby, who joins her bureaucrat brother in Raj era Bengal. Against the backdrop of political and social upheaval in Bengal, she takes English tuitions. 

Me Hijra, Me Laxmi by Laxminarayan Tripathi

Me Hijra, me Laxmi, is a memoir (nonfiction) of Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the eldest son of an orthodox Brahmin family, who became Laxmi, a hijra. Laxmi was born a male with male organs. At a tender age, she realised her needs as a woman. There was agony and trauma because she felt her body betraying her own self. This first hand perspective educates the readers about the Hijra community, and the anguish and the difficulties they go through. 

The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattnaik

This LGBTQ+ book by Devdutt Pattanaik has is about king Yavanasha, who accidentally drinks a magic potion that was meant for his wives, and ends up becoming pregnant. The novel poses a question – who is Yavanasha now? The story blurs the line between genders, between woman and man, and explores the question of sexual identities.

Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History by Ruth Vanita & Saleem Kidwai

Same-Sex Love in India presents an array of writings on homosexuality and same-sex love from over 2000 years of Indian literature from a myriad of scriptures and texts from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and modern fictional traditions. These collections of writings testify to the presence of same-sex love in various forms, depicting the gender and sexual fluidity in ancient India. Through this, it attempts to discard homophobia as a ‘western influence.’ Same Sex Love in India is one of the most revered nonfiction reads on LGBTQ+ community.

Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

Mohanaswamy is one of the most bold LGBTQ+ books in the Kannada literary scene. It was released in 2013. The book is semi-autobiographical since this was a coming out of the closet for Vasudhendra, the author, too. Mohanaswamy, is the story of exploration of sexuality, relationships, and life events in the face of being gay. The book highlights the harsh realities of being queer in India. This LGBTQ+ book is divided into short stories.

Our Lives, Our Words: Telling Aravani Stories by A. Revathi

A. Revathi brings the voices of the marginalised communities of trans women in this nonfiction LGBTQ+ book. The Hijra community has been perceived as objects of amusement and metaphors. They lack a concrete history and visibility in society. This documentation of trans women from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu brings forth first hand perspectives and experiences of the Hijra community – the agony, anguish, childhood trauma, and the rejection they have faced from the society. 

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte (Illustrated by Priya Dali)

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte is a LGBTQ+ book for children. It is difficult to find children’s fiction discussing sexuality, inclusivity, homosexuality and queerness in such a refreshing way. It is a heartfelt story of Karan, who, when not in school, is in his cupboard. Even while playing with his friends, he’d come back soon and be in his cupboard. The beautiful illustrations depict a hopefulness for inclusivity and is an amazing way to initiate a conversation with both adults and children on homosexuality.

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Moving Away From The Heteronormative Lens: Examining Queer Art

Queer Art is still in its nascent stage, where the artists channel their efforts into sharing experiences through art.

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Art has always had a political undertone. When you really look beyond the aspects of form, medium or, even, style, the core idea, behind it all, is intrinsically tied to storytelling. It seems appropriate, then, that the LGBTQIA+ community has been using art to tell their personal stories and drive political movements since time immemorial.

Modern history has, of course, borne witness to several works that are central to the queer community. However, it’s bordering on being erroneous to assume that queer art is a contemporary effort. You only have to look at Ancient Greek or Indian literature and art to see the truth in this statement.

The critical point of difference between ancient and modern queer art is that the latter is imbued with a focused intention. While ancient queer artistic works leaned towards the idea of ‘creativity above everything else’, modern artwork, centred around the LGBTQIA+ community, has always attempted to strike a balance between ‘creativity’ and ‘storytelling’.

That’s a crucial point to note before going any further. After all, the entire point of this article is to celebrate the manner in which the LGBTQIA+ community has effectively deployed art as a tool to reform socio-political views.

Going back a century, archaic laws and repressive policies were still in effect, predominantly being used to oppress any minority groups that didn’t adhere to heteronormative ideas. Ever since then, the LGBTQIA+ community has addressed these issues, blatantly or otherwise. From photography to abstract painting, queer art has been consistently working towards giving the community its rightful voice back.

Frida Kahlo has been a prominent figure in this effort. Her 1940 piece, titled ‘Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair’, was an iconic statement at the time. Depicting the artist in a suit, with her freshly chopped hair strewn all about her, the painting was instrumental in driving home the idea that gender was a fluid concept. Back then, it was almost an unimaginable thing for a woman to wear a suit, let alone sport cropped hair.

Fast forward to the roaring 60s, Diane Arbus began to get her photographs published in the leading magazines at the time. Arbus, who was bisexual, spent a lot of time capturing the experiences of marginalized groups. It was, perhaps, a shocking experience for the masses to see pictures celebrating drag queens on the issues of esteemed magazines. That, alone, served as a significant avenue for the general public to get acquainted with what was wholly ‘alien’ to them. The option of just flat out refusing to acknowledge the queer community wasn’t available anymore.

The 60s also marked a shift in the social perception of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Stonewall riots in ’69, for instance, had a massive impact on the queer community’s visibility. Up until that point, comparatively speaking, there hadn’t been such an event that demonstrated the community’s unwillingness to bear the intolerance directed towards them.

Still, it’s interesting to note that there was a certain discrepancy when it came to the queer community itself. For example, Yves Saint-Laurent, the co-founder of the fashion label ‘Saint-Laurent’, never had to deny his sexuality in the first place. Even so, this discrepancy did not translate to complacency. As a matter of fact, Saint-Laurent’s ‘Rive Gauche’ collection was an attempt to even out the playing field when it came heteronormative fashion.

Queer Art, perhaps, had never been more vital than it was during the AIDS pandemic in the 80s. At the time, medical concern devolved into unfounded dogma that eventually lead to the LGBTQIA+ community being unfairly stigmatized. There are plenty of artistic pieces that fought back against this. Even to this day, mainstream entertainment media continues to explore the circumstances surrounding that period.

A notable piece that deserves a mention, in this context, is Keith Vaughan’s ‘Drawing of Two Men Kissing’. While the piece, itself, was finished sometime before ’73, it did hold immense significance to the queer community during that time.

It would, indeed, take more than a simple article to comprehensively examine the LGBTQIA+ community’s relationship with art. It doesn’t, however, take more than a minute to acknowledge the difference it has made over the years.

The one thing that serves as a hopeful beacon is the fact that, considering everything, Queer Art is still in its nascent stage. Think about it. The artists who came before had to exclusively focus on fighting prejudice against the community. Now, with a growing support building behind them, queer artists can also channel their efforts into sharing experiences through their preferred artistic medium.

There is so much that we have yet to see. And, without any doubt whatsoever, all of it is
going to be truly beautiful.

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Editor's Pick

Throwback Thursday: A Tribute to Hemant Kumar on his 102nd Birthday

Celebrating Hemanta Mukherjee’s (also known as Hemant Kumar) 102nd birth anniversary, the renowned hindi and bengali singer of the 1970s.

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Hemant Kumar

The playback singer, Hemant Kumar, had etched his existence in the Indian soil through his mellifluous vocals. A born singer, he left a legacy behind. His journey from the Bengali film industry to the Bollywood film industry has been an inspiring one for many aspiring artists. Hemanta Mukherjee has been a profound contribution to the already enriched and thriving culture of India. Mostly known for his rabindra sangeet, he was, however, involved in many other arts and genres. Let’s dive into his journey of hard work and success on his 102nd Birth Anniversary!

Early Life

The legendary singer was born in Varanasi of UP on June 16, 1920. His family was from Jaynagar of West Bengal, but they migrated from Jaynagar to Calcutta (modern day Kolkata) in the early 1900s. Hemant was brought up in Kolkata, and did his schooling from Nasiruddin School and higher studies from Mitra Institution school of Calcutta. There he befriended Subhash Mukhopadhyay who later on became famous for his poetry. Later, Hemant joined Bengal Technical Institute at Jadavpur, Calcutta to pursue a course in Engineering. However, deep in his heart, he felt a knocking for music, so he left engineering to pursue a career in music. His father objected to this decision of his, but Hemant persevered, and went for it nonetheless. 

The Road to Singing

After dropping engineering, Hemant Kumar briefly tried his hand at literature and published a short story in a prestigious Bengali magazine called Desh. However, by the late-1930s he committed himself entirely to music. Subhash Mukhopadhyay helped Hemant Kumar get introduced into the Broadcasting corporation office. It was Subhash Mukhopadhyay’s influence, under which Hemanta recorded his first song for All India Radio in 1933. Next thing we know, he entered the music industry. The musical genius in him made his name famous in the music industry. His music career was primarily mentored and guided by the Bengali musician Sailesh Duttagupta. Moreover, in a television interview, Hemanta mentioned that he had also received classical music training from Ustad Faiyaz Khan. Unfortunately, his tutelage was cut short by Ustad’s untimely death.

He had a deep interest in Rabindranath Tagore’s songs. During his entire music career, Hemant Kumar, chose to sing and perform many of his songs. He cut his first non-film disc in 1937, making his Bengali film debut in Nimai Sanyas in 1941. However, later on, he eventually began focusing on Rabindra Sangeet (also known as Tagore Songs), becoming one of the most revered exponents of the genre.

Step into Bollywood and Cinema Production

Hemanta Mukherjee received a request from director Hemen Gupta. He asked him to compose music for Anand Math. Soon after, Hemant Kumar shifted to Mumbai. The public now recognised him as a playback singer, for singing ‘Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahan’ for S.D. Burman in the 1952 film Jaal. He also collaborated on some melodies with Lata Mangeshkar, and their voices together did wonders. 

Hemanta Kumar also ventured into movie production. Under the banner of Hemanta-Bela productions, he released his first Bengali movie directed by Mrinal Sen, titled Neel Akasher Neechey (1959). The story of this film was spun around the travels of a Chinese street hawker in Calcutta in the backdrop of India’s freedom struggle. With brilliant success and depth, this movie won the President’s Gold Medal, which is the highest honour for a movie from the Government of India. In the next decade, Hemanta’s production company was renamed Geetanjali productions, and it produced several Hindi movies. 

Achievements and Awards

For his contribution to the music industry, in the genres of rabindra sangeet, and singing in different languages, he was nominated for both padmashree and padmabhushan, but Hemanta Mukherjee refused both of them politely. For completing 50 years in the musical journey, he was publicly felicitated in Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata. Late singer Lata Mangeshkar presented him with the mementoes there. He also won other awards like Filmfare Best Music Director Award (1956), National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer (1971), National Film Award for Best Male Playback (1987), etc.

Credits: YouTube (Bollywood Retro Songs)
Credits: YouTube (Ishtar Music)
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Voices on Stage: Looking At The Stories Of The LGBTQIA+ Community

The LGBTQIA+ community has several stories that they need to tell. Theatre lends an image to decades of untold tales.

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Queer Theatre

Conversations in India are always a tempestuous thing. More often than not, archaic notions and beliefs tend to overshadow an objective perspective. 

In the context of communities and groups that differ from the so-called normative sphere, a typical response to any discussion surrounding them is: Haven’t we already become more tolerant? Well, that’s not really the case. Moreover, tolerance isn’t the same as acceptance.

Considering how long the LGBTQIA+ community has faced bigotry and persecution in this country, it’s crucial to understand that conversations around the queer experience will never stop being relevant. After all, the country, as a collective, has repressed their voice for an unimaginable length of time. It’s only right that we, now, listen.

What are some platforms, then, that let us hear what the LGBTQIA+ community has to say? Off the top, theatre is one such example. The obvious artistic nature of the platform meshes incredibly well with the voice of the queer artists and performers. It lets them say the things that needed to be said for the longest time. More importantly, the platform allows for the disclosure of our country’s ancient ties with the LGBTQIA+ community.

Consider this example. A little over two years ago, the G5A centre saw a beautiful play being enacted on its stage. The name of the production was ‘Even Mists Have Silver Linings’. An original play, the production was a glimpse into the authentic experiences of the queer community in this country.

What is more interesting, however, is how the audience reacted to the play. Before being allowed to see it, each audience member had to partake in a survey that primarily measured the audience’s knowledge and attitude towards the LGBTQIA+ community. 

The results of that survey showed that the audience rated the performances of the actors above all else. The information presented through the story came in right after that. This is fascinating for two reasons. 

First, it goes to show that Indian society, as of now, is receptive to learning more about the queer experience in this country. Second, the aesthetic experience or the format in which information is presented is significant as well.

Still, ask yourself this. Should the LGBTQIA+ community shape and mould their stories in a way that is palatable to us? Wouldn’t that detract from their experiences?

A more nuanced way to go about it would be to shape the audience first. Indeed, stories tend to lose their value when being forced into a certain box. This is even more relevant in the context of human experiences. Ideally, we should all be working towards a place where people are allowed to express themselves in a way that is true to who they are as human beings and individuals.

Don’t get it wrong here. ‘Even Mists Have A Silver Lining’ was a massive success. What’s more, it was a landmark in theatre production and original storytelling. The one place that needs more work, in relation to the play, is our own perspective.

In the context of theatre and the queer community, we need to look past formats and other elements such as performance quality. It’s essential you understand why.

The LGBTQIA+ community has several stories that they need to tell. Even more, all of them need to be heard. What theatre is doing for these stories is something that is unprecedented. It’s giving these human experiences a voice. More importantly, as a visual platform, it’s making that voice difficult to ignore any longer.

When we prescribe more significance to secondary elements rather than focusing on what is actually being said, we are, essentially, pulling back on being more inclusive. 

Think about it. What you read and hear may be forgotten after a period of time. Books need to be re-read and understood once more. Songs need to be heard again. A picture, however, will burn itself in our memory, washing away any ignorance that we could hold on to.

Theatre does exactly that for the LGBTQIA+ community. It lends an image to decades of untold tales. It’s only right then that we muster the courage to look.

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5 Plays that Impacted Queer Theatre History

The plays which shaped the Queer Theatre History and influenced the LGBTQ movement struggle, spotlighting the lives of the queer community.

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Queer Theatre

Theatre has always been a space for conversations, art, representation, and revolutions. It has been used as a space for self expression and the creation of personal and different perspectives. Queer Theatre is a generic term for gay theatre, which covered musicals, plays, and dramas on and around the stories of gay people, their lives, struggles. During the inception of Queer Theatre, the plays unravelled the deep homophobia and heteronormativity in the society, which concealed the presence of the queer people. Queer Theatre History not only reflects the participation of the queer community as artists but also the social conditions they were living in. Queer plays and dramas were often banned under the tags of ‘obscenity’ and ‘unacceptable’. Censorship and State laws worked maliciously against gay writers and gay actors. 

Queer Theatre History is a window to the history of the queer community and the LGBTQ struggle. Here are some of these plays which affected queer theatre history:

The Captive by Edourad Bourdet (1926)

The Captive by Édouard Bourdet was one of the first plays to portray lesbianism on Broadway when it was first performed in 1926. The three-act melodrama follows a young woman trying to forget her love for another woman by marrying a man who is deeply in love with her. However, the play was shut down after its 160th performance. The critics flagged it for indecency. This play prompted the adoption of a state law dealing with obscenity.

The Drag by Mae West (1927)

Written under the pen name of Jane Mast, The Drag first performed in 1927, Connecticut, is a 3-act drama-comedy play that follows Rolly, a gay man who marries a woman to hide his sexuality and the consequences of this. The Drag had a cast of exclusively gay actors from a Greenwich Village club. The play was a huge financial success. However, The Drag by Mae West saw major outrage for the depiction of homosexuality and cross-dressing and was banned for portrayal of indecency. It is one of the most significant plays in the queer theatre history.

The Boys in the band by Mart Crowly (1968)

By the late 1960s, activists made a case for gay visibility and protection. The Boys in the Band, debuting off-Broadway at Theatre Four in 1968, was one of the first plays to place homosexuality as its central plot, majorly putting a spotlight on the struggles of homosexuals. It was frank and unapologetic; the brashness and honesty of the play proved to be a game changer and ran for 1001 performances.

Bent by Martin Sherman (1978)

Sherman’s play, Bent, was one of the first ones to showcase the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust period. It took the world by storm when it was first performed in the Royal Court Theatre in 1979, shocking the audience and shining light on the treatment towards homosexuals. The plot follows Max, a gay man taken to Dachau with his boyfriend after the Night of Long Knives. After his boyfriend is beaten to death, Max falls in love with another gay man in the camp.

Eve by Jo Clifford (2017)

Written by the successful trans woman, Jo Clifford, Eve is a story of a child who was raised as a boy but always knew that they were in the wrong skin. Growing up to become 2017’s most Outstanding Women in Scotland, this is a story of Jo Clifford, herself.

While theatricals have been a stage for the privileged, it has also been an effective tool for the marginalised lot to express their identities and stories. When the queer community writes and presents their own stories and struggles, it pushes the hushed conversations into mainstream. Authentic, real life and raw first hand perspectives garnered the spotlight through theatre. The backlash that these plays suffered are a proof of the violence meted by people just for expressing their true identities. Even though, the queer community is coming up front in the society more strongly, heteronormativity and homophobia still lurk around. Queerbaiting and tokenism are prevalent, especially in the media, films, and theatres.

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Meeras
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Manpreet Toor's Laung Laachi
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