Earlier this week we showcased our first short film titled ‘Who Killed Bobby Rai?’ – a docu-fiction about a young Sikh activist who has been murdered in the UK. I wrote and directed the work, ably supported in production by two colleagues, Narvir Singh of Narvision and Gurbir Singh of Bushy Beard Films. It may not have been the first Naujawani:TV offering to be released, but it marks a move for us into more artistic endeavours in a visual medium. Thus far we have focused on Naujawani:Radio shows, blog articles and engaging with the community we hope to serve; six years on from launching Naujawani.com, we are now in a position to start telling our own stories.
The idea for ‘Who Killed Bobby Rai?’ came from the events of the last year following incredible support for the #iPledgeOrange movement across the Sikh World. There has been much occurring in the time since (for which, read back some of my previous articles) and a great deal of it has not come as a surprise. I saw things happen that bore a familiarity to the events of the not-too recent past and one idea that particularly struck me was the potential targeting of the most dangerous individuals who were speaking out. Such people are not always the most vocal or recognisable within the movement, but they are undoubtedly far-sighted, well-read and measured in action. The title character in our short film is not based on any one person, rather he is a composite of a number of people I have come across in the last thirty years, some of whom are now deceased. Each of the incidents that are spoken of in ‘Who Killed Bobby Rai?’ are based on actual events, but they did not happen within one lifetime. For this reason, the film begins with a disclaimer stating clearly and unequivocally that, ‘All characters appearing in this work are fictitious’.
As with many films, the script and performance is intended to work on a number of levels. There are numerous suggestive moments that when identified make for healthy discussion; there are hints of sub-plots that when recognised should provoke a number of questions for further research; and of course there is the underlying theme of the overall work which is to draw a parallel to unsolved murders within the Sikh community in the Punjab. It is this latter theme that drove me to produce this work. Whilst it is feasible that leading Sikh activists in the UK could be murdered in extremely suspicious circumstances where rumours abound that the Police force is purposely covering it up, it is unlikely. Transport such circumstances from the UK to the Punjab and it is not only feasible, but inevitable.
For all of the tireless campaigning and ‘creating awareness’ that we undertake in the West of such matters, we still do not value those Punjabi lives at the level we do our own, an idea that has been proven in this first week of the short film being broadcast as many viewers have shared it with others through social media under the impression that Bobby Rai was a real person who was murdered. The notion that a fellow Sikh in the UK has been murdered seems to have been enough to heighten the anxiety of some of us who otherwise sit in relative safety in the West, so much so that we ignore the disclaimer at the beginning of the docu-fiction (emphasis on fiction!) It is understandable and whilst I am not saying it is purely for that reason, it is certainly a factor.
Of the countless disappeared (presumed murdered) Sikh activists in the Punjab, we rarely focus on them as individuals who have now departed. For ease of description they are housed together as victims, without name, face or soul. There are some notable exceptions, individuals and organisations such as Khalsa Aid and ENSAAF who focus on the cases of each individual, but as a Sikh Diaspora, surely now we have matured and settled in these new lands we call home to engage in more than just rallies and rhetoric? Surely now we can begin to work through more than just speeches on Gurdwara stages and debates around radio station/TV studio tables?
As a filmmaker, I took artistic licence with this work but not to any great extent. Who Killed Bobby Rai? Technically I did, but then I also created him from experiences garnered over 25 years of seeing the rising tide and the shallow sea that has faced the Sikh community. As a filmmaker I am trying to reclaim the ground on which we live… to tell our story anew. ‘Who Killed Bobby Rai?’ is just the beginning for Naujawani:TV.