Filmmaker Responds To The TriathleteHARLEEN SINGH
As producer and director of the documentary “The Odd Couple: A Story Of Two Triathletes” I am writing in response to the allegations made against the film in the article, “The Triathlete - Unshorn Hair, Beard And All!”, which was published on sikhchic.com yesterday.
The documentary in question, “The Odd Couple,” is an inspirational tale of two triathletes, each with his own set of challenges. The 15-minute short brings to light their positive attitude and has a universal appeal in how we can all overcome our respective challenges.
The film has been acclaimed universally for its positive message. It was selected to be a part of the United Nations Association Film Festival - 2016, an invited presentation at the Parliament of World Religions 2015, and at a number of film festivals and venues in the USA, Canada, Australia and Singapore.
In the last three years that the film has been shown publicly, it has garnered tremendous support from Sikh organizations across the world. You can watch the film for yourself. It is made available free for Amazon prime members: http://j.mp/kf-oddcouple
In case you are not a prime member, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will provide you a promo code to access the film for free.
I clearly remember the day the documentary was showcased at the SikhLens film fest in Los Angeles, 2014. After the screening we had a brief Q&A. An elderly Sikh gentleman rose up to speak. He had tears in his eyes when he explained how he had dissuaded his own children from pursuing swimming. He said that if he had watched this film years ago, his children might have been the best swimmers in the country today.
That was the message I needed to hear in order to vindicate the effort I had put into the making of this inspirational film.
For reasons best known to him, Parvin feels differently about the documentary today. He was very much a part of the film when it debuted, walking the red carpet and basking in its public launch. It is rather unfortunate and surprising to read his article yesterday, years after the film was wrapped up.
Parvin’s grief seems to be that “the movie is falsely promoting that being a Sikh may be challenging in the sport of triathlon or that Sikhi is in some way holds back the guy shown in the movie.”
That is his interpretation today, four years after we had our first conversations. In 2012-13, Parvin was setting his sights to be a triathlete. He had recently recovered from a 9 month long injury.
Talking to Parvin, we realized that there were very few Sikh triathletes. We both wanted to inspire young Sikhs to be more active in sports and that was the genesis of the film.
Based on hours of recorded conversations with Parvin, email exchanges and raw footage, we depicted certain challenges that are unique to Sikhs training for and competing in triathlons. We also showed how Parvin was able to overcome those challenges.
The real challenge for Sikhs today arises much before they decide to partake in sports. Increasingly, Sikh kids have started to convince themselves rather disingenuously that their hair and beard somehow prevents them from pursuing athletics either professionally or even as a hobby. It is a mental construct.
Parvin’s story counters this effectively by showing an athlete who has overcome these mental constraints and serves as an inspiration against such inertia.
It is rather incorrect of him then to assert in his article: “There were scenes shot, to cite but one example, where I was asked to fiddle and adjust with my bike helmet on my head, even though I never have to in my real life. To falsely give the impression that my joorrah may in some way pose a hindrance.”
In the same article, he later adds, “over the years, I have been able to perfect it into an art and save time.”
That he has had years of practice in overcoming the challenges that he faced as a novice itself vindicates the film’s point of view. I can only assume that his memory may have faded with time. His progress as an athlete today does not negate the challenges he faced as a novice, starting out on the athletic circuit.
A cardinal rule in documentary film making is not to portray anything that is incorrect or false. What he describes here is a visual of the challenges he himself has enumerated many times over. At no point in time did I or anyone in my team force him to do anything that he did not endorse.
Parvin acknowledges these hurdles when he says “I want to compete in triathlons and I will do that by not giving up on my faith. I will keep the articles of faith and compete, even if it means losing precious minutes or seconds - I will still compete like that”.
As a film maker, Kaur Films and I remain true to our cause of sharing inspirational stories. We work hard to bring contemporary Sikh stories to light and for Sikh artists to come together, collaborate, imagine and inspire children and adults alike.
March 6, 2017
Conversation about this article
1: Gurfateh Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 06, 2017, 9:45 AM.
Bhenji, you are doing great work. Please continue to make films which will help our young. The panth needs young filmmakers and more people like you. Thank you. Stay in chardi kalaa.
2: Parvin Singh Panesar (United States), March 06, 2017, 11:00 AM.
The film has had changing versions from time to time. The initial movie that was made was a 30 min documentary with detailed explanation of Sikhi in it, then it was trimmed to half, that is, 15 min, on Amazon prime. When I protested, the movie director Harleen Kaur insisted she had more experience, and did not need advice or suggestion from me in order to shape the movie. If the movie was for inspiring Sikhs, why did it take so long for it to become easily available to the community? There were folks from the Akhar organization (showcased in the original version of the movie), who kept asking for the film, but never got it. To be honest I never even had a copy of the movie, or any video clips or photos that I asked for. A friend of mine from Google wanted to show this movie at his campus and he was told that the movie is not for free viewing. All of this with a good intention of making a Sikh inspirational movie? I have long tried to get through to the director on these issues but have been unable to get a response ... until my article on sikhchic.com yesterday!
3: Hardev Singh (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), March 06, 2017, 11:55 AM.
To both, Parvin and Harleen, I would say you both are talented and have made an important contribution. Please understand that the trivial misunderstanding can be overcome in good faith, and within the faith you both represent. Your worth, as a triathlete and film maker respectively, is in no way diminished.
4: Manpreet Kaur (San Jose, California, USA), March 06, 2017, 12:00 PM.
I have had the pleasure of seeing both the 30 minute and the 15 minute version of the film. To me the 15 minute works well and the director did a fabulous job. If my memory serves me right then both have great content on who Sikhs are. So, as a Sikh I am happy. The film and filmmaker have been very accessible. Some time ago when I wanted to show the film at a local event and also at my organization, all it took was an email to them and they were prompt at responding. The filmmaker has been involved in a lot of community events and have gone extra mile to accommodate any requests. My 8 year old was so happy to see this film as he had never seen a real Sikh person on screen before. As Sikhs we should encourage people to do more such good work. We all need to work for betterment of the quom, something that Harleen has been doing.
5: Harliv Kaur (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 06, 2017, 4:01 PM.
Bhen ji, first of all I want to thank you for your seva. You are doing fantastic work with your film and other work. I loved the film and have gone back and seen the film again to see what the controversy was about. To me, the film is an optimistic view. It shows Sikhs in the light that it should. There is no doubt that there are some challenges with the beard and kesh, including for my son at the swimming pool. But what we need to show is that all these are trivial and can easily be overcome. Your work does a tremendous job of that.