Under fire from Sikh radicals, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Akal Takht, filmmaker Harinder Sikka on Tuesday decided to withdraw Nanak Shah Fakir from theatres in India as well as abroad, despite the good response the Guru Nanak biopic has received since its release on April 17.
The movie has been in the eye of a storm for allegedly violating Sikh tenets by portraying Guru Nanak in a ‘human’ form, even as Sikka has been claiming that computer graphics were used for the purpose.
Confirming his decision, Sikka told Hindustan Times, "I had a meeting with Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday. He requested me to withdraw the film and make changes according to the Takht’s directions. So, I have made the sacrifice smilingly."
He added, "Akal Takht hukamnama sar mathhe man liya hai (I bow to the Akal Takht’s directive with all due respect). After making the changes, the film would be re-released within a month. It would be withdrawn within the next two days," said Sikka, who has produced the film.
Giani Gurbachan Singh said he was happy that like a true Sikh, he (Sikka) had agreed to abide by their directions. The jathedar hoped that the changes would be incorporated in the movie.
Asked to spell out the directions he had given to the filmmaker, the jathedar replied, "He (Sikka) is aware of the objectionable content. However, I will ask the SGPC to form a committee for overseeing the changes. When the film is ready for re-release, it will be seen first by the committee."
The withdrawal has come as a relief for the jathedar, who was being accused by a section of the radicals of having given clearance to the movie in its original form. These accusations were levelled after Sikka claimed that he had shown the film to Giani Gurbachan Singh in January this year.
The jathedar, however, refuted Sikka’s claim, saying that the filmmaker had not discussed the content of the film with him but only conveyed to him his intention of making a film on the Sikh religion.
Sikka refused to comment on the financial losses he is likely to suffer due to the withdrawal and also the additional burden he would have to bear for making changes. "As a producer, I had no greed of filling my pockets from a divine film like this. But yes, as my film was being loved so much and was witnessing packed houses, this is a huge loss for me. It isn’t possible to recover the Rs 35 crore that went into its making, but I’m very sure that after its re-release, it would be loved and appreciated again."
When asked to specify the changes, Sikka said, "I am still waiting for the jathedar to tell me clearly what changes they want. The objection to the ‘human’ portrayal of Guru Nanak can be dealt with."
"I assure all who have raised objections about the film’s content that when it is re-released, it won’t hurt their feelings," he added.
What led to decision
The SGPC and other Sikh organisations kept putting pressure on producer Harinder Sikka, fearing that if any relaxation was given to ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’, it might prompt other film producers/directors to make films on Sikh subjects with actors playing roles of the Gurus or their family members. Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh met Sikka in Delhi and persuaded him to withdraw the film. The producer had no option but to bow before the Takht’s authority
Producer Harinder Sikka to make changes in the film, as asked for by Akal Takht. The changes have not been specified yet, but these would probably pertain to Guru Nanak’s ‘human’ portrayal, over which objections have been raised by the SGPC and others.
According to the Akal Takht jathedar, the SGPC will be asked to form a committee for overseeing the changes. When the film is ready for re-release, it will be seen first by the committee.
Sikka has said that the movie would be released again within a month after making the changes.
Controversy and objections
The film was first screened at the Cannes film festival in May last year, followed by the Sikh Lens, Art and Film Festival in California (US) in November last year. Nobody spoke out against the movie at that time. Trouble started when its teaser was released in March this year
This led producer Harinder Sikka to hold special screenings at his residence in New Delhi. A five-member SGPC panel led by general secretary Sukhdev Singh Bhaur also saw the movie. In its report to SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar, the panel demanded that the movie be banned as it portrayed Guru Nanak in a ‘human’ form, besides the fact that an actor had played the role of Bebe Nanaki, the Guru’s elder sister
The SGPC executive passed a resolution demanding that the central government impose a ban on the film. The Dal Khalsa, a radical group, threatened Sikka with dire consequences if the film was released
Citing a threat to law and order, the Punjab government suspended screening for two months prior to the April 17 release. The Chandigarh administration followed suit, even as the movie was released in Haryana and other states.
The SGPC or any other Sikh organisation prohibits the ‘human’ portrayal of the Gurus or their family members. However, artists such as Sobha Singh have painted portraits of some of the Gurus and shown them as humans. Guru Gobind Singh was portrayed through still imagery in ‘Chaar Sahibzaade’ (2014), an animation film.
Read: SGPC seeks ban on 'Nanak Shah Fakir', claims film violates Sikh tenets
Read: Row over ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’: Don’t be a Rushdie, Dal Khalsa warns film-maker
Read: Punjab govt suspends screening of controversial film Nanak Shah Fakir for two months