HT Explainer: The unholy row over ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’
‘Nanak Shah Fakir’, a Punjabi movie produced in 2015, has run into trouble with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) imposing a ban on its release on April 13.punjab Updated: Mar 30, 2018 20:05 IST
Even as violent protests by the Karni Sena against ‘Padmavat’ have barely died down, another controversy regarding “picturisation of all that is sacred” is brewing in Punjab. ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’, a Punjabi movie produced in 2015, has run into trouble with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) imposing a ban on its release on April 13. “The movie will not be released until objectionable parts are removed,” said SGPC spokesperson Diljeet Singh Bedi.
The movie is based on the life of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev. The bone of contention is the picturisation of the Sikh guru in human form, which the SGPC says is against Sikhism.
The film, produced by Harinder S Sikka, has been in the eye of the storm since its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2014 and then at Sikh Lens, Arts and Film Festival in California later that year.
In 2015, Sikka had claimed that Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh had given his approval to the film. However, the jathedar denied this, saying he had only appreciated the project and that too before the movie was made.
- January 2015: Akal Takht Jathedar Gurbachan Singh, congratulates Harinder Sikka on the film, calls movie a “fine example of promotion of Sikh faith”.
- April 2015: Nanak Shah Fakir, which was all set for release, withdrawn after directions from Akal Takht. SGPC forms eight-member sub-committee to review the movie.
- May 13, 2016: Sub-committee gives clearance, official letter states, “We have no objection in granting you permission for release”.
- March 13, 2018: SGPC chief secretary Roop Singh sends e-mail to education director, asking him to show the film to students “to make younger generation aware of Sikh history”.
- March 19, 2018: Letter from SGPC requests manager of the Teja Singh Samundari hall to put up ads for the movie.
- March 23, 2018: Viacom 18 releases its trailer, announces April 13 as the release date.
- March 28: SGPC stands by clearance, says people who are protesting should first watch the movie.
- March 29: SGPC takes a U-turn, says won’t allow screening in wake of concerns by Sikh devotees.
The role of Guru Nanak Dev in the movie is not played by any actor, and he is depicted through computer-generated graphics. Ironically, in an apparent bid to pre-empt controversy, a disclaimer to this effect is the first thing in the movie trailer. It also proclaims, “With the support and blessings of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)”.
The SGPC has been blowing hot and cold on the movie ever since 2015. On March 13, its chief secretary Roop Singh requested the education director to inform schools and colleges about the movie “to make younger generation aware of Sikh history”.
On March 28 too, the SGPC stood by the movie, saying that people who are opposing it should first watch the movie. But just a day later, it did a complete volte-face. “We will not allow the screening of the movie in wake of concerns aired by Sikh devotees,” the SGPC declared.
Interestingly, former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur was present at the trailer launch of the movie, which was attended among others by Bollywood star Akshay Kumar and Oscar winner Resul Pokutty.
‘NO ONE CAN CLAIM OWNERSHIP OF GURU NANAK’S TEACHINGS’
Clearly stumped by SGPC’s ban, film’s producer Harinder S Sikka said, “I am not a filmmaker, this is my first film, a not-for-profit project, which I initiated because I wanted to spread the Guru’s words. Guru Nanak does not belong to one religion and no one can claim his ownership.”
He added, “I don’t know if the SGPC can actually ban the movie since I have CBFC certification; the movie does not belong to them.”
Sikka further said he will talk to the SGPC about its “objections” before deciding on his future course of action. He hinted that the ban could be the handiwork of the “fringe elements”.
Sikh scholar Sewak Singh, who holds a PhD in Gurbani grammar, is all for the ban. “Depicting Sikh gurus in a living form is against the principles of Sikhism and should not be done.” He added, “It is only in Hinduism that picturisation of the gods is allowed. It is not so in most other religions.”
The movie trailer, uploaded onto Viacom 18’s YouTube channel a week ago, has already snagged over 2 million views. Interestingly, comments have been disabled. But the songs, such as Sat Guru Nanak, are open to comments, and have received mostly positive reviews.
Some people on Twitter, however, objected to the film. One Beant Mander tweeted, “We don’t want few businessmen to tell what our history is. We already knew it. You are hurting our religious sentiments by portraying our Gurus in films (sic).”