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The film 'Nanak Shah Fakir'  began life as a collection of 8 'soul stirring songs'  created by an international group of musicians of various faiths - but no script. Despite glowing reviews the film was banned in some parts of India last year due to its depiction of Guru Nanak, the revered founder of Sikhism. Preeti Singh caught up with Harinder Sikka, the producer, to talk about the controversy.

How did you begin work on the movie?

In 2011, we moved into our new home. Bhai Nirmal Singh, renowned singer of classic Gurbani ragas, came to recite Guru Nanak's Shabads as a thanksgiving prayer and connected me to Mr. Uttam Singh, the music director. As if on cue, in came Resul Pookutty. He designed the sound and brought in Hollywood background music maestro Tuomas Kantelinen. AR Rahman graciously agreed to be the principal guide, score mentor and 'The Presenter'.  

Uttam Singh put his heart and soul in composing and recording the eight Shabads. Pt. Jasraj and Bhai Nirmal Singh, the highest civilian awardees in India, sang the vocals.

Soon enough, I had eight soul stirring songs, but no clue on how to script a feature film around them, until I met Prof. Amrit Basra of Delhi University, a renowned researcher and historian at Bhai Veer Singh Sadan. She scripted the film and bound it with facts and data in record time. Taking the film on floor thereafter, in the holy land of Punjab in November 2013 couldn’t have been simpler.

The movie was shot within seventy days over ten months. We travelled the length and breadth of India.

The movie is being banned because of claims that it goes against the maryaada of Sikhism.

It is sad that some sects are lobbying without even watching the film and calling for a ban on it. They are using social and digital media to spread falsehoods. How can a fringe group can decide what all Sikhs can or should watch? The movie was granted written permission by the Darbar Sahib four months ago. Now this fringe group, that claims intellectual property rights over the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev ji, decides that the movie is not to be screened.

There is absolutely no breach of maryaada, in any form.People should watch it themselves to decide if there is any blasphemy as some sections of the radicals have claimed.

They say the Guru has been given a human form. In reality, Guru Nanak has been depicted through high-end computer graphics at a VFX studio.  In keeping with Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak Dev Ji has been portrayed from the back, amidst a ray of light.

They say Sikhism is against idol worship. Being a proud devout Sikh myself, I am fully aware of that. It is pertinent to mention that there is no order from any of the gurus within the Guru Grant Sahib Ji that bans the use of imagery for the purposes of promoting Ek Onkar. There is only a ban on use of imagery for worshipping i.e., a ban on idolatry. Would you ban books that spread the teachings of Nanak?

They say the movie is irrelevant because it is made in Hindi. In reality, Guru Nanak and his teachings are bigger than any language. The foundation stone of Sri Harmandar Sahib was laid by  Mian Mir, a Muslim Peer . Anyone who reads and understands the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is aware that the holy book contains several different languages within it.

The Guru was born to a Hindu family, his message of Ik Onkar (there’s but One God) and his teachings are universal. He is followed by Sindhis, Multanis, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. To reach out to as many of His followers, the film has been made in Hindi.

Teachings of Guru Sahib are enormous and need to be spread in sync with new mediums such as digital media that includes the younger generation.

Tell us some of your experiences while making this movie.

Sikhism does not believe in miracles, but several unexplained, amazing incidents took place during the shooting of this film.Some of my fond memories are -

The film's first shooting location, Mullanpur (Punjab) happened to be the same place where, according to legend,  'Pandavas' spent their last year in hiding ('agyat vaas') under the umbrella of Lord Krishna. On November 28, 2012 (Guru Nanak Jayanti) we decided to light 5,000 mustard-oil filled earthen lamps all over the set at Mullanpur. We were advised against this due to the presence of high velocity winds prevailing in the area. As if a prayer was answered, all the 5,000 lamps burnt brightly through the night in a perfect, windless night. Ratwara sahib Gurdwara, famous for preserving 'Pandawas' artifacts, served us langar (community kitchen). On November 29, after our shoot was over, the high velocity winds commenced, accompanied by rains.

At JaganNath Puri (Orissa) when it was announced that it was to be the last shot of our film, a big rainbow appeared on the bright blue sky, as if with blessing from The Lord above.

Pearl S Buck said of the Guru Granth Sahib’s verses, “They speak to a person of any religion or of none. They speak for the human heart and the searching mind.” The radicals of Sikh religion and its self-proclaimed custodians will do well to open their minds and search for the truth therein - and begin to focus on things that will make Sikhism stronger, not weaker!

Sikhism is one of the youngest religions in the world, and also a progressive one. The Gurus were strong proponents of a casteless society, female equality, of speaking up against injustice, and fighting for, or standing in support of the weak, underprivileged and the persecuted. In the five hundred years since its inception, the religion has seen changes - some for the better and some not so palatable. Yet, Sikhs retain their identity, with or without their turbans; the Sikh traditions of  Naam Japna (focus on God), Kirat Karni (honest living) and Vand Chakna (sharing with others) remain strong, and Sikhs across the world hold these three tenets close to their hearts.

Preeti Singh says she is '...a proud Sikh. I keep out of discussions on faith, because my path to the divine might differ from the other person’s, and I consider my faith a personal matter.  Yet, I am intrigued and appalled by the noise against producer Harinder Sikka’s movie “Nanak Shah Fakir” a movie on the revered Sikh Guru. The movie has been banned in the Punjab because it is considered blasphemous, and will invoke violence. This move by the Punjab government has been prompted by the threats of the radical Sikh outfit Dal Khalsa and SGPC also condemning the movie.

Guru Nanak’s teachings are even more relevant today because of the insane manner in which people are being targeted, singled out and killed in the name of religion.

If “Nanak Shah Fakir” will bring Guru Nanak and his wonderful teachings to many, and help in making this world a little more understanding and tolerant, then it would have served its purpose.

There are many blasphemies that the so-called caretakers of Sikhism might want to pay attention to - violence against women, the segregation of gurudwaras based on caste, the idolising of leaders of some Sikh factions, the problem of drugs and unemployment in the Punjab, and the blatant representation of Sikh Gurus through portraits and little sculptures.  Those might be battles worth fighting for, not a movie that spreads the message of the Guru. 

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