Director-actor Puneet Issar managed a coup of sorts when he got the permission to shoot a sequence for his movie I Am Singh at Ground Zero in New York, the location of the 9/11 attacks. It’s the first Bollywood movie to be filmed on the location after the attacks. But it wasn’t easy getting the go-ahead. The director admits he had to go through a gruelling legal procedure laid out by the law enforcement agency in the USA.
“The authorities were sceptical. It took me a year to convince them to let me shoot on the location,” he recalls, adding that the governing bodies were worried that the movie could portray a negative image of their country. “I submitted the script of I Am Singh. After reading it, they gave us the consent, realising that the film was about racism and not a comment on Americans.”
But the director’s woes continued even after seeking permission. The local crew was apprehensive too. Even they had asked Issar for an explanation. “National sentiments on the subject are still strong. I don’t blame them for being apprehensive,” he says. I Am Singh deals with the issue of Sikhs being mistaken for Arabs in America, even a decade after the 9/11 attack.
“My film is based on real life incidents. It’s painful to know that Sikhs changed their identities, stopped wearing the turban, a symbol of their pride, and even shaved off their moustaches and beards,” says Issar. “There’s only one message in my film: Sikhs shouldn’t be mistaken for Arabs.”