In the past week, a film titled ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ has faced major opposition from Sikhs worldwide and since going on release has resulted in poor sales. There are a number of problems with the film, most notably the depiction of Guru Nanak by an actor – all of which I highlighted well over a month ago before it gained mass attention. Coincidentally, at that time we announced plans for our first feature film produced here at NAUJAWANI.com, and so I have been pondering what reaction we might receive as well as what we have faced so far.
Over the last month, we have been crowd-funding a feature film titled ‘Their Last Stand‘ – a story focusing on 12 Sikhs trapped in the Darbar Sahib complex as the Indian State invaded. The project began by chance, when we made a short-film version as a last minute project at the end of 2014. Having not expected much from what was a hurriedly adapted narrative to fit a short-film, I was taken aback when the final edit came back as it bore out the vision I had originally anticipated. The idea of producing this as a major feature film project then took flight. Some five weeks of pre-production and crowd-funding later, we have successfully raised a significant amount of finance to add to our film budget from over 30 backers residing across the World – all of whom will now have exclusive first access to the film when it is completed.
Crowd-funding is a relatively new innovation that the internet has made possible on an international scale. If you have an idea for a product, project or event that will garner support, you can present your idea and raise funds to make it happen. I’ve funded projects like these in the past and have even written about one, but it is very different when on the other side of the relationship. It is a humbling experience to know that there are people out there who have a belief in you which they are willing to back financially. Our crowd-funders have shown their support for us on the basis of a 5 minute short film, supplemented by the other work we have produced previously (both in film and writing). And that means a great deal to me both emotionally and in terms of producing the film; I want to create something that lives up to the belief that our crowd-funders have shown in us as well as satisfy the high standards we have for the feature length film ourselves.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the topic of this film has played a major role in ensuring that crowd-funding was forthcoming. The events of 1984, particularly those of the June invasion, are highly sensitive but also enticing. However, the response we’ve received from Sikh organisations and particularly the Sikh press has been unexpected – largely one of ignorance. Of almost a dozen Sikh media outlets to whom we sent press releases, only one published a news article about the film. Perhaps that says a lot about why opposition to ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ has come so late, that there is ignorance until we as a community are staring down the proverbial barrel of the loaded gun. It is not just because of a lack of media coverage and promotion that I found the Sikh silence unsettling though; once announced that I was making a film focusing on the invasion of Darbar Sahib in 1984, it was as if nobody wanted to know what stance our story might take. Some might argue (sensibly) that our previous work in this regard speaks volumes of our intentions when making this film, but I am sceptical whether Sikh media outlets are aware of our previous work. I wholly expect to encounter some opposition between now and the release of ‘Their Last Stand’, but unlike other films which court controversy, we are not making our feature film for commercial gain or even to ‘reach out to our youth’; we’re making it to document and record what happened, albeit through a some-what fictitious scenario.
For too long, dialogue amongst Sikhs about the invasion was polarised between those who accepted it and those who saw it for the atrocity that it was. The reality was not some middle ground half way between those two, but what we hope to present in the film – an orchestrated attack that had begun decades earlier, culminating at that time in a full-scale, physical onslaught. When people suggest that the invasion was a necessary act, or that we (Sikhs) need to move on from it, they do so because of the sheer weight of content that has been published promoting those notions, whether through the press, broadcasting media or the arts, all of which originate from the invader. It was a struggle for Sikh activists to respond to State-backed propaganda and as the production of ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ has shown it still is. Whilst that film’s public face is Sikh, its origins are anything but, and the idea of presenting Guru Nanak as ‘Nanak’ – a person, not The Guru – is not new, even if doing so on such a large platform and to a global audience is.
Our work with ‘Their Last Stand’ is not going to break Box Office records, but we aim to turn Sikh cinema on its head. The audience will leave contemplating what took place in a way that they haven’t done thus far through cinematic productions on the subject. We aim to make a film that will stand the test of time and although it might not find much reaction in the short term, as the support from our backers has shown it will certainly be appreciated by those who take the time to understand what it is. Perhaps if a similar level of attention had been shown to films like ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ or even ‘Chaar Sahibzaade’ which preceded it, we wouldn’t now be having to oppose it so brazenly around the World.