Review Credits to Gurmat Parchar
It’s hard to say anything about ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ really, as it was written and directed by (and probably stars) ‘Guru Nanak’*. These were the words printed across the cinema screen during the opening credits as the audience eagerly awaited this ‘divine wonder on screen’ (Anisha Bedi, Hindustan Times).
What followed next was especially heart-warming, Mr. Sikka made sure to pay his gratitude and thank his powerful, political benefactors: Prime Minister ‘Shri’ Narendra Modi ‘Jee’ (who was then still chief minister of Gujrat), Late. ‘Shri’ Bal Thakeray ‘Jee’ (founder of the nationalist right wing party: Shiv Sena) and incumbent party President ‘Shri’ Uddhav Thakeray ‘Jee’. Aside from the politics of all this (see images below), was Sikka’s devotion so devoid of grace that it couldn’t spare the epithets of, ‘Shri’, ‘Dev’ and ‘Jee’ to ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ when the aforementioned were given tributes? Harinder Sikka, of course, is a Sikh and therefore he could not limit his gratefulness to his ‘RSS – Overlords’; humble tributes to Giani Gurbachan Singh Jee (Jathedar, Sri Akal Takth Sahib) and Jathedar Avtar Singh Jee ‘Makkar’ (President, SGPC) followed (not preceded) humbly in next shot.
‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ is Sikka’s Brain Child and Not a Depiction of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji
Sri Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Jee and ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ are two different entities – that was made clear at the beginning of the film (in retrospect). Because, the ‘wet glowing man’** shown at the beginning of the film to be the incoming spirit of ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ with his long open hair and baggy clothes certainly looked like a ghost. Much of this film was quite like the various biblical movies. Allegedly, Mel Gibson in one of his interviews about his controversial film: ‘Passion of Christ’ like Sikka claimed ‘Jesus guided him’ make the movie . In such a situation it becomes hard to understand what sources Sikka used. ’ The ‘so called’ depiction of Guru Jee and the character Bhai Mardana Jee travelling around crowded cities had an almost gimmicky resemblance to Jesus in Jerusalem.
For the Sikhs, the emergence of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee in this world is a phenomenal occurrence paramount to none other in the history of the universe. It is an understatement to use the term ‘magical’ when it comes to describing the image that Sikhs have when they visualize their Guru being born in Talwandi. We grew up with stories of Daulatan Dhaayee (the midwife) being overwhelmed by the radiance of Guru Jee, with the Vaar of Bhai Gurdhaas Jee describing the sunrise of Guru Jee’s Avtaar and how Satguru Jee did not cry etc. This was the first disappointment for me; in an age (and actually a film) where graphics and SFX are used extensively the portrayal of this scene was especially downplayed in all ways. We drew an inkling here that Guru Jee’s portrayal is going to be humanized.
We want to move away from the debate of whether it is right or wrong to portray Guru Jee or their family members graphically, through actors or otherwise because that brings us into an arena of other issues (pictures, animations and so forth). In defense of this film one of two things are said, one is that it helps universalize and propagate the message of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee – in Gurmat terms this is what we call Parchaar and secondly it helps us to historically understand and see the life and era of Guru Sahib. For us three things are important: the message, the history and the way it is all conveyed.
Intellectually honest to due film though the eyes of Bhai Bala
Starting with the latter – the film is narrated and shown through the eyes of Bhai Mardana Jee. Undoubtedly, Bhai Mardhana Jee travelled most with our Satguru Jee the throughout their journeys but the oldest and in fact only primary source of the life events of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee is the Bhai Bala Janam Sakhi (despite its interpolations). Again, refraining from entering the need for films etc, it would have been more appropriate, historically credible and intellectually honest to do this film through the eyes of Bhai Bala Jee because to an extent we have their version and perspective on the events of Satguru Jee in the Janam Sakhis (and adaptations such as Sri Nanak Parkash, or Bhai Vir Singh Jee’s Sri Nanak Chamatkar). We cannot comprehend the relationship between Bhai Mardhana Jee and Guru Sahib, nor can we understand, mock or humiliate their tests, temptations or even ‘greed’ as portrayed in the film. Is Sikka trying to pose his account of itihaas as Bhai Mardhaana Jee’s in front of the traditional Bhai Bala versions?
One point that can be made is that Sikhi is a complete path, our Satguru Jee’s created every protocol, utility and strategy that is required for our panth to both survive and flourish and this has been proven through the test of time. Sri Guru Angad Dev Sahib Jee themselves had Bhai Bala Jee orate the Guru’s itihaas in the form of Katha and none of the latter Guru Sahibaan made an attempt to dramatize or act out the events of Guru Jee’s life. This was done during a time when plays such as ‘Raam Leela’ (the life of ‘Lord’ Rama) and ‘Raas Leela’ (mimicries of ‘Lord’ Krishna’s romances) were a common occurrence. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee refuted an invite to watch a Raas Leela – there is a shabad regarding this in Sri Asaa Dee Vaar:
Historical inaccuracies of the film
Gharheeya Sabhey Gopeeya; Pehar Kan Gopal.
All the ‘hours’ (gharee is just over 20 minutes) of my time are the milk-maids, and the quarters (pehar = 3 hours) of the day are the Krishna’s.
The messages that were in this film were nice: ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ was seen spreading (repeating) the message of Kirat Karo (earn) and Vand Chhako (share your earnings). But not once was there a mention of Naam Japo (recite God’s name) the first of this traditional trio, even in the final scene where the Mool Mantar is proclaimed by the character of Guru Jee, ‘Jap’ is omitted. If someone considers this an innocent mistake then they are surely mistaken. In such a costly affair, and that with a whole team of experts did no one point this out to Sikka? It is clear that this is his personal view and he has asserted it on the character of ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’. Really, he has every right to do this because this character is his brainchild and certainly not my Guru. What is so offensive and dire is this deliberate change of Gurbhanhee.
‘Na Koi Hindu Na Koi Musalmaan’ is a commonly cited quote of Guru Jee after they re-emerged at Sant Ghaat from the River Bein – there is no history to suggest this occurred, and the emphasis on this was only made in the film to show Guru Jee as ‘religion-less’, open humanist and a more loving figure, like Jesus perhaps – throughout the film no ‘Sikhs’ or rules of Sikhi are shown. Guru Jee’s father and brother-in-law are shown without beards at one point, and the women of Satguru Jee’s family are all shown with piercings, jewellery etc. Is this historically accurate? We don’t know – Is it necessary – definitely not!
This film will appeal to and reaffirm the views of all those who do not see the need for rules and tenets within faith (rehat), and believe Sikhi to be some airy-fairy, faint universal mindset. Seva and Simran are the pillars of Sikhi – Where were these shown? Where was the seva that Guru Jee had Sikhs do at Kartarpur? It had no concept of Sikhi as an individual ideology – no dialogue of Guru Jee at Baghdad or with Sidhas explaining Sikh Philosophy. Assuming Harinder Sikka is not Amritdhari, we can understand why there was no mention of charan-amrit (baptism in the time of Guru Nanak):
Charan Dhoye Rehras Kar Charan Amrith Sikhaa Peelaayaa
(Vaaran Bhai Gurdhaas)
For example, Guru Jee’s wedding was touched upon but their defiance to engage in a Hindu Vedic ceremony around fire was completely missed out, the Sakhis of throwing water to the fields in Punjab were not present and the ‘Sidh Gosht’ was replaced by Bhai Mardhana Jee being mauled by a black bull and then saved by a white one, how peculiar (Guru Jee was not shown conversing with them at all)? Where is the message and knowledge in all of this?
Interestingly, Guru Jee and Bhai Mardhana Jee were shown coming back on a boat from Mecca but none of the events there (or at Medina etc) were portrayed. The conspiracy theorist within us suspects Sikka struck a deal with the Hindu Shiv Sena so that they would not oppose the film (and there was not much for them to object about really) but was clever enough to not show ‘Moving Mecca’ for fear of a Fatwa.
Guru Sahib Jee’s entity made ‘miracles’ happen casually, these convey the power of God Incarnate – examples include the cobra shading Guru Jee and the crops becoming ripe again after being destroyed, there was no emphasis on these at all. A complete humanization of the Guru-Being was present throughout the film.
There were so many historical inaccuracies that it becomes hard to take account of. There were minor mistakes in some Sakhis, for example Sri Nanak Parkash and most other sources say that Guru Jee took Bhai Lalo Jee’s Kodhrey Daa Parshaadhaa in one hand and took Malik Bhago’s Poorhey in the other hand, squeezing firmly but in the film it was shown that the plates themselves began to leak blood and milk. Although one can be skeptical about the purpose of these tweaks, it can be dismissed as misinformation and doesn’t really change the message to an extent – but, it is through these small differences that history loses creditability over the test of time. Others blunders include Guru Jee being arrested by Daulat Khan (and not Babar) when they were offered alcohol and many of the stories relating to the shabadhs were altered (i.e. the uthaanikaa or the pre-stories behind gurbanhee shabads were changed).
Admittedly, it was enjoyable and refreshing to see some of the main Sakhis played out on screen despite their shortcomings. It serves us a reminder of how rich and meaningful ‘Nanak Leela’ (Gauri, Baavan Akhree) really was. But, unfortunately all this was overshadowed by the depiction of Guru Jee at ‘Kurukshetra’. The meat debate has gone on for decades but one thing is clear neither party (meat-eaters or veggies) have within their prerogative to interpolate historical events in order to push their agenda or view on this or any thing else. It is for this reason that the Hindalis and Kabeer-Panthees are seen as great heretics in Sikh History.
Guru Jee did go to Kurukshetra at the Solar Eclipse Fair (Surya Grehan Mela) – this is a fact. But, was Guru Jee simply there to advocate meat eating to age-old vegetarian Brahmin priests? This is clearly what was being conveyed in the film, and the Gurbanhee translations given in the subtitles clearly conveyed this.
In reality, Guru Jee exposed the hypocrisy of Vaishanism: adherents refrain from all types of meat (even raw onion and garlic are outlawed in some denominations) ;however, they are free to indulge in promiscuity – in the Janam Sakhi/Sri Nanak Parkash emphasis is made on how the Guru challenged them that what difference was it to eat flesh (in the form of meat) than to indulge in the pleasures of flesh covertly?
The shabad ‘Maas Maas Kar Moorakh Jhaghrey’ (ang 1289) is an example of ‘prodyavaadh’ – this is a literary concept where you take the issue of contention and uproot its core, de-layering its substance – other examples of this include the idea of impurity ‘Je Kar Soothak Maneeyai’ (Sri Asaa Dee Vaar, Ang 472). Guru Jee was not against vegetarianism, nor were they against purity and hygiene – this is made clear in the bidhi pakh (teachings of conduct):
Such Hovai Thaa Sach Paiyeeai (Ang 472)
Through purity one attains the truth.
Or regarding meat:
Kabeer Joree Keeyai Julam Hai Kehthaa Naao Halal (Ang 1374)
Kabeer, to use force is tyranny, even if you call it ‘Halal’ etc.
The final portion of the actual sakhi concludes with ‘Kheer’ (rice pudding) being in the cauldron (which initially had deer-meat) and Guru Jee served this to all the Pandits. Their leader, Nanu Pandit accepted Guru Sahib Jee as the redeemer of Kalyug, as he had read about them through a prophecy in the scriptures. This version is accepted by all historical accounts and is even printed across the boards of Gurdwara Sidh Vatti, Kurukshetra (see below). Sikka, did not show this and instead trailed into the realm of both ambiguity and controversy – not really fitting for the kind-hearted message this film promised to deliver. To take from this Sakhi that it is correct to eat meat is like justifying cannibalism on the account that Guru Jee told the Sikhs and Bhai Lehna Jee to eat a corpse (during the test of Sikhi at Sri Kartarpur Sahib).
The second most objectionable portion of this film was the Aarti at Jaganath Mandir, Puri. Cosmic dance or not the Aarti of Guru Nanak does not call for a physical dance. It was reminiscent of pantomime-cum-film adaptation: ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Raincoat’. With dancing yogis and sari-clad ‘yoginis’ I wasn’t sure what to think anymore. The elderly Bibi’s could be seen awkwardly adjusting their chunnis over their heads, looking at each other confused in the dark cinema hall. The inherent respect of Gurbanhee that dominates the Sikhs Psyche was being deconstructed on the cinema screen. Call us fanatical, dogmatic or as you please but the Guru clearly criticizes the dancing Guru’s of his time and to portray him similarly is outrageous and disrespectful of Gurbanhee:
Vayan Chele Nachan Gur.
The followers play instruments and the Guru Dances.
Pair Hilayan Feran Sir.
They shake their feet and nod their heads.
Nachan Kudhan Man Kaa Chaao.
Dance is but an entertainment of the mind.
Nanak Jin Man Bhau Thina Man Bhaao.
Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee says only those that have fear can have love within their minds.
Harinder Sikka claims to have stayed with ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ for seven days and so the film was born from divinity. A bit like the ‘immaculate conception’ of Baby Jesus, this film was a pure miracle. Rest assured, there was nothing miraculous about it; there was however, plenty of commercialism. To appeal to the feminist, ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ randomly utters the ‘Jith Jamai Rajaan’ shabad when he sees a woman in the crowd in the final scene (like it was the first time he had seen a woman), for others it left them with the warm fuzzy feeling of a ‘family saga’ seeing Guru Jee return to their tearing wife and children, and for others it was the saddening death of ‘Bhai Mardhana Jee’ that raised their sentiments. Despite all of this the movie was still a non-thriller and seemed very fragmented.
However, we can all appreciate how arduous a task it is to piece together Guru Jee’s life in a 2 hour feature film but more careful selection would of have been appropriate. Visually, the screen picture, the costumes and scenery was all very impressive (and I hope well researched). And, to the films credit it does help one understand the era of Guru Jee. One cannot flaw ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ as a period drama. However to my disappointment it was neither entertaining, nor historic or inspiring. Bhai Nirmal Singh Jee’s Keerthan of Arti was spectacular.
One scene did move me though and not because of its portrayal but because it served as a reminder of the virtue of Guru Jee; it was when Sri Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Jee endured the slaps of their father for engaging in sacha-sauda, the true trade (feeding the hungry saints). This offended many of the Sangat, but understanding the director’s perspective this incident is quite vital in any rendition of Guru Nanak’s story (albeit in the not in the form of a film). Note, at present we dont believe there is even a single painting of this incident. What was a shame though, was that actually this film took nothing from it and was a sauda, a trade in itself. Most certainly not a true one but one that exchanges the core values of Sikhi, the traditions of ‘Guru Ghar’ with one man’s egotistical mindset. The Guru’s cannot be humanized at any level, even though they took on and conformed to many of the restrains of the human body, that was their choice and not for us to reduce or interpret in any way. I fear the wrath and opinion of my Guru and his beloved saints:
So Mukh Jalau Jith Kahe Thakur Jonee.
May that face burn which expresses the Lord as a mortal.
We urge Harinder Sikka, director and creator of ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ to consider the objections of the Sangat (many of which are present in this review) and prove our assumptions/allegations towards him as untrue. Whether or whether not he is allowed to make another version of this film there is much to learn from this event.