Commentary by Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston).
Harinder Singh Sikka’s Nanak Shah Faqir banner makes the claim that it is an “epic” on Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The debate on its truth notwithstanding, one cannot help but notice that there are other “epics” at play in the making of this movie.
THE EPIC OF AN INSPIRATION THAT NEVER WAS
SIKKA graduated from Delhi University in 1979 and joined the Indian Navy. He left the Navy prematurely in 1993 at the rank of Commander because in his own words “my heart was not in it.” He then joined India’s largest pharmaceutical company Piramal Enterprise and has climbed the ladder remarkably well.
However, when the Kargill war broke out in 1999, Sikka says he felt the need to “pay his dues” to the Indian Navy and went to the battleground as a free-lance war correspondent. There he claims he met a Kashmiri Muslim woman whose life was an epic of an uncanny type and monumental enough to change Sikka’s too. Sikka claims he had “read her file” while he was in the Indian Navy.
Sikka says he wrote a novel titled Calling Sehmet based on the true story of this woman. It was published in 2008 and launched aboard an Indian Naval Ship by the then Chief of Staff. She too was a Delhi University graduate who served the Indian nation but in her capacity as a spy – deploying deception of epic proportions. She married a Pakistani military man merely to gain access to sensitive information. So strong was her nationalistic sentiments and so sensitive her assignment that she ended up murdering her husband, father in law, brother in law, sister in law and the family servant each time her cover came under threat of being blown.
Sikka claims that the un-named woman’s tormented soul was blessed with spiritual peace by an un-named holy man. And she in turn would bless Sikka with spiritual wisdom to make a movie on Guru Nanak.
Sikka says he told this mysterious spy-turned-saint Kashmiri woman that he had three major problems. One, he knew no one in movie land and thus nothing about making movies. Two, he did not have the money to undertake the effort. Three, and most importantly, even as a Sikh, he knew nothing about Guru Nanak.
Being the blessed soul that she was, she told him everything would fall in place if he kept his promise on two counts. One, he was NOT to borrow or ask for any money and two he was NOT to “bring home” any of the movie’s proceeds.
AN EPIC OF A DREAM
Sikka says based on the ex-spy cum serial murderer’s “spiritual penance and blessings” his third and most serious problem was resolved first. He had a dream stretching over seven nights in which he “travelled with” Guru Nanak and acquired a personal understanding of the Guru direct from the Guru himself. He says he wrote an article based on this dream titled “Nanak My Friend, Philosopher and Guide.”
Sikka says his major discovery about Guru Nanak was that the Guru was misunderstood. Sikhs were steeped into rituals and this was the major problem. His movie would thus aspire to correct these defects and attempt to portray the real Guru Nanak to the extent possible.
THE EPIC OF WHO’S WHO IN MOVIE LAND
All the people and money Sikka needed for the movie would begin to appear in his life from then on and just when he needed them, according to Sikka’s boast of a narrative that is found both in writing and in his television interviews.
Hazoori Ragi Padma Shree Bhai Nirmal Singh would come first. He would lead Sikka to renowned music director Uttam Singh. Eight gurbani shabads were recorded as the base of story line for Nanak Shah.
Shooting of Nanak Shah began in 2012 and was completed in 2013. The following year it appeared at the Toronto Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival Paris and Sikhlens Film Festival at Chapman University, California.
Lots of other expensive names joined Sikka at some point or other – people like two time Oscar winner music director AR Rehman, Oscar winning sound designer Rasool Pookutty, Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen of Hollywood Fame, Drupad Singer Padma Shree Pandit Jasraj, and others.
The movie’s sound mixing and mastering would be done in world class institutions such as Galaxy Studios Belgium and Abbey Road Studios London.
Sikka says he accomplished all the above without borrowing or asking for any money from anyone.
In Sikka’s own words, “the miracles kept unfolding.” The producer has listed scores of “miracles” and “unexplained events” that happened throughout the shooting. These ranged from 5,000 mustard-oil filled earthen lamps at the movie’s set at Mullanpur that refused to be extinguished despite heavy winds and rains to the appearance of a big rainbow at Jagan Nath Puri (Orissa) during the last shot of the film.
Sikka says he invited 22 people from the Akaal Takhat Sahib including Jathedar Gyani Gurbachan SIngh for a private viewing and they were pleased with what they saw. He did the same for a delegation from the Punjab Chief Minister Badal’s family.
As far as Sikka was concerned he was ready for the release of his movie. It is hard to imagine that Sikka actually believed he could pull off a deed in the name of Guru Nanak by doing just about everything that was anti-thesis to the basic principles of the majestic Guru himself.
To his credit, he did manage to ultimately release Nanak Shah Faqir to audiences in India and the UK, even if only for a short period. The ban by Akaal Takhat surely disappointed him.