Seven years after making his directorial debut with Salman Khan-starrer, Garv: Pride And Honour, Puneet Issar is returning as an actor-director with I Am Singh. Coming on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the film talks about Sikhs who, despite living in the US for over a 100 years, were mistaken for Arabs and Afghans because of their turbans, and became the victims of racist violence.
“Gurdwaras were torched and innocents killed. Friends living in Los Angeles told us that even speaking in Punjabi in restaurants and public places was frowned upon because it was believed that they were hatching another conspiracy,” recalls Puneet, who has shot 95 per cent of his movie in LA, New York, San Francisco and San Diego among other American cities.The actor, who is still best remembered for his portrayal of Duryodhan in BR Chopra’s TV epic, Mahabharat, has over the last three years, made at least 27 trips to the US to research his film, get permission and finally shoot it there. "I travelled with a cast and crew of 80 from Mumbai and was joined by a team of another 100 locals, including a couple of Hollywood actors and a big TV star," says Puneet, who himself plays a small but significant role in the film.
Following the hate attacks, several Sikhs shaved off their beards, cut their hair short and disowned their turbans. Puneet doesn’t approve; and joins Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against the ‘abolish turban’ campaign in countries like the US, UK, France and Australia. “The turban is a Sikh’s honour, pride and art. I took a turban maker from Patiala with me to the US for three schedules to ensure that it was worn right,” he says.
Asserting that Sikhs are known for their valour and integrity, Puneet says that it upsets him to see films like Singh Is Kinng (2008) and No Entry (2005) laughing over Sardars. “We are portrayed either as buffoon havaldars, army officers, truck drivers or five-star hotel darwans in movies.
But the fact is that though there are less than 3 crore Sikhs in the world and a fraction of those live in India, we pay 33 per cent Income Tax. The message behind My Name Is Khan (2010) was that all Muslims are not terrorists. I Am Singh underlines the fact that every guy who wears a turban is not an Osama Bin Laden.”