Kamaldeep Singh Brar explains the controversy over ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’, a film SGPC now wants banned; SC ruled in favour of its release.

What is the controversy around the film Nanak Shah Fakir?
Produced by Harinder Sikka, a columnist and writer, Nanak Shah Fakir is the first ever film about Guru Nanak Dev. Sikka says making a movie on the life of the first Sikh guru was his “dream”. But the Sikh Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) and the Akal Takht says that no person must portray the Sikh Guru and his family members and that as such portrayals hurt the sentiments of the community, the film must be banned.

The SGPC maintains that even the existing pictorial depictions of Guru Nanak Dev should never have been allowed, but their circulation is so widespread that it cannot hope to pull those back now. Now, says the SGPC, it wants to draw the line at celluloid portrayals.

In May 2003, the Dharam Prachar Committee of SGPC passed a resolution (number 5566), which laid down that: “Characters of Sikh Gurus, their respected family members, panj pyare, cannot be played by real life actors. Only baptised Sikhs can play role of other important Sikh personalities”. The SGPC executive committee adopted and passed the resolution on July 10, 2003. The Akal Takht also adopted the same resolution.

In order to ensure that its concerns are addressed, the SGPC has long demanded representation in the Central Film Certificate Board. Several times in the past, SGPC has raised objections to the manner in which Sikhs or Sikhism are presented in Bollywood movies. Many Bollywood movies, such as Bole So Nihal starring Sunny Deol, had to first satisfy SGPC officials for a smooth release.

What authority does the SGPC have to decide how the Guru should be depicted?
As a democratically elected body, the SGPC looks at itself as the Sikh parliament and the community’s widest representative. Although its main mandate is to ensure the smooth running of gurdwaras, since its formation in 1920, its Dharam Prachar Committee has made many pronouncements on religious issues. The SGPC’s clout is seen in its tight control over both clerical and temporal matters such as the appointments of the Panj Pyare, and over the three Takhts under it — the Akal Takht, Takht Damdami Sahib, and Takht Keshgarh Sahib.

Wasn’t this film released two years ago? Why the fresh release?
The film was actually first released in 2015. Sikka had obtained the green light for the film from the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal body of the Sikh community. The Akal Takht also gave Sikka a letter, praising his services to the community. But after several Sikh bodies began to object to the film, the SGPC stepped in and demanded a ban. The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab at the time, as well as Chandigarh administration suspended the screening of the movie. However, it was released in the rest of the country and in select places in other countries with a significant Sikh diaspora. But Sikka withdrew the film from everywhere, deciding to seek the SGPC’s approval first.

What was the need for Sikka to seek the SGPC’s approval?

The SGPC’s views on various matters relating to the Sikh community carry influence in the community across the world. Praise for the film from the SGPC would have ensured that more people saw the film.

But didn’t the SGPC too clear Nanak Shah Fakir later?

The SGPC finally gave its approval to the film in 2016. By then, Sikka had modified the film to present Nanak’s character in animation. In Sikka’s original film on Nanak, the Guru was played by actor Harish Khanna. In 2014, SGPC had passed Char Sahibzaade about the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh on the grounds that it was an animation movie and no real-life actor played any role in it. In Sikka’s film, though the characters of Guru Nanak Dev’s parents and sister continued to be played by real-life actors, an SGPC sub-committee cleared the film.

At the time, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar had claimed he was not taken into confidence while giving the clearance.

Why the U-turn by SGPC now?
The SGPC decided to take back approval last month after Sikh bodies, including organisations such as Dal Khalsa, Sarbat Khalsa, Damdami Taksal, and others started objecting to the movie. Padma Shri Nirmal Singh Raggi, celebrated for his Gurmat Sangeet, who has sung six Shabads in Nanak Shah Fakir, is also against the release of the film. Considered a moderate voice in the community, and a campaigner for permitting Sikh women to become raagis at the Golden Temple, Nirmal Singh says “if the community has decided something, it should be respected. It is better to not make such movies. I had advised producer Sikka against depicting character of Guru Nanak Dev ji and his family in movie. But he didn’t listen”.

 What happened in the Supreme Court?
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the release of the movie. Echoing previous rulings on demands to ban films, the Court noted that once the Central Board of Film Certification gives a film the go-ahead, no one can be allowed to obstruct it. The Court asked state governments to ensure law and order, and said freedom of expression cannot be crippled. The SGPC has said it will file a review petition in the court.

What is the Punjab government’s stand on the issue?
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said on Tuesday that “while authors, film-makers had the creative freedom of expression, such freedom could not be allowed to violate the religious sensitivities of any community.” However, the Punjab government has been saved from having to make any decisions on the film as Sikka has said he will not be releasing the movie in the state given the “sensitivities”.

(Adapted from Indian Express)