Amid stray incidents of violence, yet another confrontation is brewing between supporters of the Dera Sacha Sauda and Sikh bodies, and this one has a filmy twist. A sequel is in the works already.
Even as the highest temporal body of the Sikhs, the Akal Takht, has sought a ban on ‘MSG: The Messenger of God’, a movie starring and co-directed by the Sirsa-based dera’s head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the sect’s followers have gone into overdrive to promote their guru’s big-screen debut, set to release on January 16.
Even as a poster of the movie was reportedly torn in Moga on Monday night and two followers received minor injuries in an attack by unidentified men attacked poster, an unfazed dera says 70% of the shooting for a sequel (MSG-2) is done too. Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, meanwhile, has said the national censor board would take the call.
The dera plans to release the movie across 2,000 screens in Hindi; English, Tamil and Telugu versions would come later along with a worldwide release, according to spokesman Aditya Insan.
Trailer trending, ground abuzz
Backed by a strong online current — yet another song promo of ‘MSG’ came out on Monday and Twitter is abuzz with discussion — on-ground activities involve followers installing posters and billboards in Bathinda and even distributing sweets and T-shirts.
The theatrical trailer, which has the 47-year-old dera head performing stunts, singing and dancing and posturing as the nation’s savior and conscience, has garnered over 11.5 lakh views on YouTube.
Already termed satirically and otherwise as the “rockstar saint” for his albums and live performances of bhajans that essentially sound like pop songs, the dera head is shown to be a murder target in the movie as per the trailer. In real life, the dera head, excommunicated from the Sikh Panth over allegedly blasphemy, is facing charges of rape and murder.
Followers of the dera — which has a history of violent clashes with certain sections of the Sikh community over his manner of propagation — are being exhorted at the ‘naam charcha’ (religious congregations) to watch the movie and encourage others to do so. On Monday, several followers were seen promoting the movie at Nathana near Bathinda. Posters have been pasted in parts of Bathinda city also.
A member of the dera’s political wing, Balraj Singh Insan, said, “We have assigned duties block-wise for the purpose.” The movie, according to the dera website, is aimed at fighting social evils, particularly drug abuse. The dera claims to have a following of nearly 4 crore in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and other states.
“The censor certification procedure is underway. Currently shooting for the sequel is on in remote Rajasthan, and we expect that to be complete by early January… That one we shall release after we are done with the worldwide distribution of ‘MSG’,” said Aditya. The movie is co-directed by Mumbai-based Jeetu Arora Insan, who has earlier directed episodes of TV series including Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
On whether or not they would show the movie to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which has been asked by the Takht to examine the content, the dera spokesman said, “We will show the movie only to statutory bodies.” The SGPC is yet to draw up a plan of action. The Takht had excommunicated the dera head from the Sikh Panth in 2007 for allegedly indulging in blasphemous acts of imitating the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh. The case in that matter has since been closed by the police.
Known for discreet political maneuvering earlier, in the first such open declaration the dera has supported eventual winners BJP in the Haryana polls recently, and there are suggestions that this is a ploy to have it easy in ongoing cases of rape and murder. In the movie, the dera head is shown fighting drug abuse, an issue on which the BJP has been aggressive even against its ally SAD in Punjab.
“It is up to the censor board to take a decision. Once it takes it, then we will see it,” CM and SAD patron Badal told reporters in Chandigarh. A likely reasoning to ban the movie could be possibility of violence, though so far the violence is restricted to online abuse and defence.
Chhotepur joins chorus
Getting onto the ban bandwagon, Aam Aadmi Party’s Punjab convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur said in Chamkaur Sahib: “Religious personalities should keep themselves confined to religious preaching, and should refrain from acting and dancing in films.” With Sachin Sharma in Bathinda
What’s in it: Defensive thread, tricolour tinge
The theatrical trailer of the dera head’s movie ‘MSG’ carries a thread common to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s songs too — a noble man who represent the world but is under threat from evil forces. The movie, though, adds a nationalistic tinge and shows him carrying the Tricolour around.
Apart from smashing cars, breaking bones and dancing, the dera head thunders that killing him “would amount to killing your own self”. In one shot, he is seen swerving his bike away from a truck apparently sent by his enemies to crush him, a purported reference to a bomb attack on him by Sikh radicals from a truck near Karnal in 2008. Though he escaped unhurt, two of his followers sustained injuries.
The trailer ends with him declaring that if serving the country and the cosmos was a sin, he would commit that sin till his last breath. One of the seven songs of ‘MSG’ is ‘Jiyenge, marnege; mar mitenge, desh ke liye (We shall live and die for the country). An earlier song of the dera head was ‘Main chhora hun babbar sher ka, darta na giddaran taain re (Son of a lion, I am not afraid of jackals)”.