Amid stray incidents of violence, yet another confrontation is underway between supporters of the Dera Sacha Sauda and Sikh groups in Punjab, Haryana and beyond.
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.
An unfazed dera says 70% of the shooting for a sequel — MSG-2 — is done too.
"The promos were cleared, thus playing in cinema halls. The rest of the process is underway smoothly. Now, shooting for the sequel is on in Rajasthan, and we would be done by early January. MSG-2 will come out after we are done with the distribution of MSG," said dera spokesperson Aditya Insan.
MSG has been co-directed by Mumbai-based Jeetu Arora Insan, who has directed episodes of TV series including Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
The dera plans to release the movie across 2,000 screens in Hindi; the English, Tamil and Telugu versions would come later, according to Aditya.
The theatrical trailer, which has the 47-year-old dera head performing stunts, singing and dancing and posturing as the nation's saviour and conscience, has garnered over 11 lakh views on YouTube.
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, Delhi, Rajasthan and other states; and if ticket prices are taken at Rs. 100 apiece, the movie could set records. Advance booking has seen unexpected response.
'Rockstar' guru faces murder, rape charges
Already known as the "rockstar saint" for his albums and concerts of bhajans-cum-pop songs, the dera head is shown to be a murder target in the movie.
And in real life, he is faces charges of rape and murder. In the latest — close on the heels of six deaths during the arrest of another such sect head from Haryana, Rampal — the Punjab and Haryana high court is hearing a PIL taking note of reported training of a militia inside the Sirsa dera headquarters.
A CBI probe has also been ordered into alleged castration of 400 men at the dera.
Legal tangles aside, followers of the dera — which has a history of violent clashes with sections of the Sikh community over his manner of propagation — are being exhorted at congregations to watch the movie and encourage others to do so.
A member of the dera's political wing, Balraj Singh Insan, said, "We have assigned duties block-wise for the purpose."
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, meanwhile, has put the ball in the censor board's court for now. And a censor certificate is awaited.
On whether they would show the movie to any Sikh body, including the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the dera spokesperson said, "Only to statutory bodies!"
The SGPC is yet to draw up a plan of action.
The Takht had excommunicated the dera head from Sikhism in 2007 for allegedly imitating the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh. The case though has since been closed by the police.
Known for discreet political involvement earlier, in an open declaration the dera supported Centre's ruling party and eventual winner BJP in Haryana polls, and there are suggestions that this is a ploy to have it easy in ongoing cases of rape and murder.
PM Narendra Modi is among his admirers from across the board, as was evident in his campaign speeches in Haryana.
Meanwhile, trailers of MSG are being shown even with shows of PK, the Aamir Khan movie that pans the 'godman' culture.
What's the controversy: Defensive thread, tricolour tinge
The trailer of dera head's film MSG carries a thread common to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singhs songs — a noble man serves the world but is under threat. The movie adds a nationalistic tinge and shows him carrying the Tricolour around.
The dera head thunders that killing him "would amount to killing your own self". He is seen swerving his bike away from a truck sent by his enemies to crush him, a purported reference to an attack on him by Sikh radicals in 2008.
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 songs of MSG is ‘Jiyenge, marenge; mar mitenge, desh ke liye (We shall live and die for the country). An earlier song of the dera head declared that he is the son of a lion, not afraid of jackals. His most popular album is Highway Love Charger.