Kids Corner

Our Heroes

Bhai Taru Singh

by SHARMILA GANESAN-RAM

 

 

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.

He had been arrested for rescuing a young Muslim girl from the hands of a cruel Mughal governor. He chose the former.

"All your sins can be pardoned if you cut your long hair and renounce your faith," the governor told him. When Taru Singh refused to give up his faith, the enraged governor ordered a cobbler to chisel 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, which will release in India in March 2010, is the fourth in a series of Sikh animation films made by Chandigarh based 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.

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 historical hero 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, Sanjay, 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, U.K., U.S.A., 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 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 yelled out the slogan "Degh, Tegh, Fateh" - Victory to the Sword that protects the weak, to the Cooking Pot that feeds the hungry!" - and the audience responded with -  "Panth ki jeet" - "Victory to the Sikh Nation!"

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 Sukhwinder 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 the ‘American Punjabi Mela of Yuba City' in California,  ‘Tiaa'n da Mela (Women's Fair) in Toronto, and kabbadi tournaments across the U.S. and Canada.

"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, Sukhwinder Singh was asked why he had made a film on Guru Gobind Singh's sons. Sukhwinder invited six-year-old Anoop Kaur, a Sikh- Canadian, to the stage who recited one of the movie dialogues in chaste Punjabi.

"I was told that she had memorised every single dialogue and song from the movie," recalls Sukhwinder Singh.

The reactions to his latest offering Bhai Taru Singh 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, " Geeta Kaur says poignantly.

 

[Courtesy: The Times of India]

February 13, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Manjyot Kaur (New York City, U.S.A.), February 13, 2010, 12:55 PM.

Congratulations to Sardar Sukhwinder Singh and everyone at Vismaad! It's easy to understand why there wasn't a dry eye in the audience; "Bhai Taru Singh" sounds like an immensely moving and inspirational film. I'm looking forward to seeing it! May Waheguru continue to bless the Vismaad team with Chardi Kalaa to carry on their much-needed work.

2: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), February 13, 2010, 3:05 PM.

Great initiative. Wish something like this could be in gurdwaras here too. Kids will learn something, instead of just roaming outside endlessly, even those who come to merely talk endlessly.

3: N. Singh (Canada), February 13, 2010, 4:39 PM.

This is fantastic! But why do we not get any of this stuff on the west coast of Canada? Why don't we get The Spinning Wheel Film Festival here as well? We have a 300,000 strong Sikh diaspora in the west! [Editor: These things don't 'come' ... somebody has to make an effort there to 'get' them!]

4: Hardeep Singh (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 14, 2010, 9:01 AM.

The movie rejuvenates the phrase in our ardaas: "Jina singhaan singhniaan ney dharam heyt sees dittey ... khoprriyaan lehvaahyiaan ...", and brings out the spirit of the saint-soldier deeply ingrained into the basic fabric of the Faith. As per one 8-year old viewer, the next time saying or listening to the ardaas, she will feel the agony of the strike of the chisel on the forehead of Bhai Taru Singh ji. This screenplay has rediscovered the legend from our (somewhat) obscure 18th century Sikh history, and brought it alive in our hearts and souls to live forever. This movie revisits the historical facts of how a devout and determined, brave son-of-the-soil of Punjab stood against the terror and tyranny of the invaders, as the protector of Faith and Freedom for the people of the entire subcontinent. The message and mind-set brought out by the theme shabad, 'Sir jaavay taan jaavay mera sikhi sidak na jaavay' ~ 'One can take away my head, but not my love for Truth!' will inspire all for a long time. A marvelous, must-watch film for young and old!

5: Sukhwinder Singh (Punjab), February 15, 2010, 7:40 AM.

Manjyot Kaur ji: we tried hard to bring the movie to New York City but, sadly, couldn't get it going (although New Jersey had two very successful screenings in local cinemas). N.Singh: Five screenings were organized in British Columbia. However, only about 250 from 300,000 Sikh-Canadians who live in the province turned up to watch the movie. (The Toronto screening was watched by 3000). Jasvinder: The film was screened in Auckland, New Zealand in November 2009. Another screening is coming up on Feb 28 at the Hyots Cinema. Please visit www.bhaitarusingh.com for more details. Please contact the Auckland organizers for a screening in Hamilton, NZ.

6: Devinder Singh (Australia), February 17, 2010, 4:58 PM.

We had three shows in Melbourne, Australia. All the shows had a sizeable attendance. Everyone praised the movie as fantastic and amazing.

7: Geeta Kaur (New Jersey, U.S.A.), February 19, 2010, 6:38 PM.

GurFateh, Editor ji: you are absolutely correct ... "These things don't 'come' ... somebody has to make an effort there to 'get' them!" This is a humble message to the New York sangat, and to the sangat in all other cities where the movie has not yet been released. We request you to please come forward and organize a screening of 'Bhai Taru Singh' so that every Sikh and non-Sikh knows about the supreme sacrifice of this brave shaheed. Together, we can make it happen!

8: Harpreet Kaur (France), March 02, 2011, 9:51 AM.

Film kithoo(n) wekhaa(n), please? Jaldi tu jaldi dasso ji! Thanks.

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