Clotted in controversy: Should the movie Nanak Shah Fakir ever be released?

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Nanak Shah Fakir – The first biopic on the life and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev ji, which is set to be released world-wide on 17th April is undoubtedly drawing opposition from a big section of Sikh groups worldwide.

Produced by Harinder Sikka and Oscar winner Resul Phuketty with a big budget reported to be around $30 million, “Nanak Shah Fakir” has been in line of fire ahead of its release.

According to Harinder Sikka, the film is a step forward for Sikh Cinema and will spread the message of Guru Nanak. He believes that the film has been written, produced and directed by The Creator Himself.

In 2012 on the eve of Guru Nanak Dev ji’s Gurpurab, there were 5,000 mustard-oil filled earthen lamps put up all over the set at Mullanpur.

As per Harinder Singh Sikka, he reportedly consulted SGPC, Akal Takht Authorities and many Sikh Scholars during the making of the film. According to a report by SBS Radio Australia, there were around 20 representatives from SGPC who had watched the movie and raised no objections and instead commended the movie and some even had tears in their eyes. Besides this, there were also about 900 people from different communities with more than 70% from Sikh community and not even a single person raised any objection.

Since Sikh tradition prohibits the use of Guru Sahib depictions, he said Guru Nanak Dev ji‘s face is not shown on screen and instead computer graphics technology has been used to avoid causing offense to our religion.

It is to be noted that there are opposite statements given by Adil Hussain and Sartaj Pannu stating that Harish Khanna and Tom Alter has played the roles of Guru Nanak.

Here we would also like to mention that SinghStation has now received video clips from Harinder Sikka which shows how the technology has been used to depict Guru Sahib’s feets.

The film has been created from the eyes of Bhai Mardana ji, who was the longtime companion of Guru Nanak Dev ji.

He further added that there were some objections raised by Akal Takht over the human voice used at some scenes, to which they agreed and then replaced with the computer voice as well.

Resul Pookutty (Oscar winner) has designed the sound, while the Indian composer A.R. Rahman (who won an Oscar for best music and best song for “Slumdog Millionaire”) has worked as the principal guide, score mentor and ‘The Presenter’.

Uttam Singh composed the soulful music, while shabads have been sung by legendary Padma awardees, Pt. Jasraj and Bhai Nirmal Singh. One of the shabads has been reported to be sung by atleast 18 singers including Bhai Nirmal Singh, Pt Jasraj, Sonu Nigam, Harshdeep Kaur and many more…

Unexpected by Harinder Sikka, the movie has however drawn angry responses across the Sikh world. The movie has been strongly condemned by Sikh Groups such as Dal Khalsa, Sikh Youth Punjab, Sikh Student Federation Mehta, Sikh Sangat from Australia and many others. All of these groups have issued statement to ban the release of the movie. SGPC Chief Avtar Singh Makkar has also warned Sikka of releasing the movie without their explicit consent.

Here is a list of the main concerns raised by various Sikh groups against the release of the movie –

  • Sikh Traditions do not believe in depiction of Guru Sahibaans and thereby no human can portray it on screen. With Nanak Shah Fakir, there are controversies that Guru Nanak’s character has not solely been depicted via graphic technology but instead human characters namely theatre action Harish Khanna and Veteran actor Tom Alter has done the act as well.
  • There are concerns that besides the depiction of Guru Sahib role, their immediate family members can also not be enacted by any human actors. In this particular movie, Bebe Nanaki’s role has been played by Puneet Sikka and this is not acceptable to the Sikh groups raising protest. There are also objections on the role of Arif Zakaria who is playing the role of Bhai Mardana ji in the movie.
  • Sikh Gurus believe in Gur-shabad and such depictions will just deteriorate that concept among our generations. As per Dal Khalsa’s email to Harinder Sikka, they have stated that the movie would lead others to be more pernicious and wayward and that the movie will take down the entire Sikh community and is nothing short of blasphemy.

On the other hand, there are Sikh groups who want the movie to be released and their main points of favouring the release of movie are as below:

  • Some individuals believe that Sikh community need to move with time and that movies such as Nanak Shah Fakir will help to inspire the new generations especially in the west, who are obsessed with the traditional Katha styles and who hardly read Sikh history books.
  • There are Sikh Groups especially from USA and Canada who are supporting the movie admitting that there is no obvious depiction shown on screen to portray Guru Sahib and instead graphic technology has been used which should be acceptable according to them to inspire others.
  • There are a few who believe that there is nothing wrong with depictions.

Here are some concerns that came from Harinder Sikka during our telephonic conversation:

  • So many representatives of SGPC and many Sikh scholars watched this movie, why didn’t they raise objection to this at that time?
  • There is so much blasphemy happening in some of the books about Sikhism, why there are no efforts to ban those?
  • People are sharing bad comments and abusive language over the pictures of my daughter ‘Puneet Sikka’ over social media. Is this what they learnt in Sikhi about respecting a woman?
  • A sincere attempt has been made and that too at an international class with the sole purpose of spreading the Guru’s message. No income from this project shall come to the producers’ home. But it’s sad that a select number of people begin lobbying, without even watching the film, ironically using the same digital media to spread falsehood. Can we not be positive about our faith?
  • Who decides what is to be shown and what not? No one knows what the official version is. When was it written? Who circulated? Who wrote it? And if there was a circular, an official document which said so, then why was Chaar Sahibzaade cleared?

It is pertinent to mention that the highest authority of Sikhs – Sri Akal Takht Sahib had not so far produced any whitepaper guidelines for such topics. No doubt Sri Akal Takht Sahib has a major role to lead such delicate and most important decisions of Sikh religion.

There was a leaked statement by a former SGPC member that sometimes in 1990s, there was a resolution passed during times of Jathedar Prof Manjeet Singh ji that No human can play roles of Guru Sahibs and immediate family members over the big screen. There are definitely some questions which we need to raise with SGPC and ourselves as well –

  • Is SGPC or Akal Takht fulfilling their due responsibilities appropriately? With such a big budget of SGPC, how much are they spending over distributing free literature and also producing quality Sikh literature to meet the modern-day needs of Sikhs? Who is questionable to them and who is answerable to us?
  • Is Harinder Sikka alone to be blamed for the opposition on this project?
  • Are Sikhs ready to accept actors like Honey Singh, Diljit Dosanjh, Sunny Leonie or any other humans playing roles of our great Gursikhs?
  • Should the movie be permitted to release with any proposed changes and what those proposed changes should be?
  • What should be the guidelines for any future movies based on Sikh history?
  • How should we educate our upcoming generations especially in west who are deeply uprooted from Sikh History?

We certainly believe that there will be more questions and concerns that I would have missed to mention due to my own inability to interpret. No doubt there are multiple concerns from various sides and I think it is worth to bring those concerns on one platform.

We would like to open this discussion to everyone who is concerned with the release of the movie. We encourage readers to provide feedback and their valuable insights. Our thinking might be different to one another but our focus should be positive – towards our panth, our Guru and our panthic unity.

The basic message is to keep gurmat on the forefront as guidance and then address issues based on

“Hoye Ikatar Milo Mere Bhai, Dubidhaa Door Karo Liv Layee”

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