A Film based on Bhai Taru Singh’s Shaheedi released in 2009 by Vismaad has been watched and appreciated by thousands. Often times there are films which release a leave an unforgettable impact on the hearts and minds of those who watch them. The Bhai Taru Singh Film is one of those films. A film which invoked the spirit of Sikhi in many and many who watch them took Khande Di Pahul. We forget the sacrifices of such mahan Sikhs who lived and breathed Sikhi till their last breath and had their heads cut off but did not convert. These types of films inspire and educate people in masses about sacrifices of many of the Sikhs in the past, a initiative we should all support.
Article Published by TOI on Feb 13, 2010
In a world that wants to ban turbans, a dead hero is privately inspiring hope.
His name is Bhai Taru Singh. At the age of 24, this pious Sikh was given a choice. He could either have his faith or his life. Singh, who was arrested for rescuing a young Muslim girl from the hands of a cruel Mughal governor, chose the former. “All your sins can be pardoned if you cut your long hair and renounce your faith,” the governor told him. When Singh refused to give up this symbol of his faith, the enraged governor ordered a cobbler to chop off the saint’s scalp instead.
The sight of the blood-ridden head of this saintly warrior, who was the stuff of every Sikh mother’s oral fables, is now leading to fresh tears within the community. In fact, some members of the Sikh diaspora, which is grappling with racial profiling, turban bans and community jokes, have even sworn online — after watching the film that is being screened in private shows around the world — that they will never cut their hair.
Bhai Taru Singh Ji, which will release in India this March, is the fourth in a series of Sikh animation films made by Chandigarhbased animation studio Vismaad with a purpose. “We believe that if connected with real heroes from Sikh history, today’s youth will take pride in their distinct identity,” says Sukhwinder Singh, founder of Vismaad, who grew up on such sakhis (stories) narrated by his mother. “The youth doesn’t take pride in their Sikh appearance of turban and uncut hair anymore. Apostasy is on the rise and has worried the Sikh leadership,” he adds. So, five years ago, he decided to set up Vismaad with a friend, choosing animation as his medium of story-telling. “It is non-intimidating, charms all age groups and doesn’t require hunting for fake actors to enact those marvellous saint-soldiers of Sikh history,” says Singh, who has written and directed Bhai Taru Singh Ji.
The legendary hero wasn’t easy to recreate though, even for Vismaad, which is now five years and four Sikh films old. In addition to sparse information on this legend, who lived from 1720 to 1745, history also yielded little description on his appearance. This posed a challenge for animation director Sanjay Kumar. “Cartoons are easy, but making this real-life character come alive was very tough,” says Kumar, who had a small team of 25 artists to back him. “I had to be careful that his appearance was consistent and body ratio was measured with a scale and not fingers, as is usually done. Also, since I was dealing with a religious figure, I had to fine tune his expressions, smile, lip synchronisation so that nothing appears over the top or cartoonish.”
However, Kumar, who has also introduced some comic scenes in the movie keeping kids in mind, has reason to be satisfied with himself. Over 20,000 people have already watched the 90-minute movie in private screenings across Canada, UK, USA, France, Australia, Germany and Italy, and it will soon be screened at the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest 35-mm fixed screen Hyots Cinema in New Zealand. The theatre has 464 seats including 44 premiere seats. The Rs 1.35-crore film has already recovered over 70 per cent of its budget.
On Facebook, people like America’s Manpreet Singh are posting pictures with the promise to go back to Sikhism. “Bhai Taru Singh stood for the principle of what is right, it did not matter whether the girl he was saving belonged to a different faith. We sometimes forget that. As Sikhs we must remember that ‘higher than Truth is Truthful Living’, and Bhai Taru Singh did that in his own way,” says Toronto’s Inni Kaur, who organised the screening locally. At one of the shows, she was taken aback when a 15-year-old Sikh boy at the end of the film said, “Degh, Tegh, Fateh” (the Sikh anthem) and the audience replied, “Panth ki jeet”.
But one of the biggest challenges for Vismaad is marketing. The studio has been following a unique private screening model as movie distributors are not interested in purely religious movies. “For them, commercial interests are more important,” says Singh. So, they hire cinema screens at a location for a pre-decided number of screenings and it is advertised in the local community. Ticket sales are handled independent of cinema box-offices, through direct sales at community events and the online movie website. Another very important marketing activity includes conducting free movie shows in all leading gurdwaras and doing roadshows at major community events like ‘American Punjabi Mela of Yuba City’, ‘Tiaa’n da Mela (ladies’ fair), Toronto, and kabbadi tournaments in California, British Columbia and Toronto.
“We work with limited budgets and most of the effort is voluntary. Advertisement is of prime concern, so we ask members of the congregation to participate by helping us in campaigns via flyers, handouts, phone calls, mass email advertising,” says Saluja Singh, who organises the screening. “Initially, we relied on internet marketing by emailing our close friends who further used their contacts to spread the word. Eventually an email viral happened and hits started increasing on the movie website,” recalls Sukhwinder Singh, who set up his firm at a time when there was no animation studio in north India. The plots of all the movies were published in online Sikh magazines. These brought many new visitors to the website. Discussions were initiated on all major blogs and discussion boards specific to Sikh matters.
In fact, in the 2005 screening of Vismaad’s first film Sahibzadey at the Spinning Wheel Film Festival of Toronto, Singh was asked why he made a film on Guru Gobind Singh’s sons. Singh invited six-year-old Anoop Kaur, a Canadian national to the stage who recited one of the movie dialogues in chaste Punjabi. “I was told that she had memorised very single dialogue and song from the movie,” recalls Sukhwinder Singh. The reactions to his latest offering Bhai Taru Singh Ji, are even more flattering. Volunteer Geeta Kaur swears that she didn’t see a single dry eye in the theatre after the show — “In the scene where the Mughal officer comes for Bhai Taru Singh, his mother cordially greets the officer and says, ‘This is the house of Nanak. Everyone is welcome here with warm hospitality. Please eat and rest first, then you can take him.’ It is scenes like these that are touching the hearts of Sikhs and making a difference, ” Kaur says poignantly.