INTERVIEW Puneet Issar on his upcoming film “I Am Singh”, which talks about the emotional turmoil Sikhs living in the U.S. face post 9/11

Director-actor Puneet Issar is ready to release his first film in half-a-dozen years. It has no big stars unlike his first, “Garv” , which featured Salman Khan, Shilpa Shetty and Amrish Puri. It is not the saleable romantic/comedy/action genre. But Puneet is upbeat that it will leave a lasting impression. The movie is titled “I Am Singh” and talks about the emotional turmoil that the Sikhs living in the U.S. are facing post 9/11.

“It is a subject very close to my heart. I have seen the emotional disturbance caused by the hate crime; leave aside the physical and financial harm. My inner voice compelled me to make a film on this and I did so. With a lot of courage, I am releasing it globally too — I think it will strike the right chord among audiences as racial discrimination is being faced by various ethnic groups across the world. It is no longer a local issue,” says Puneet, whom most recall as the menacing Duryodhana from BR Chopra's epic television show “Mahabharat”.

The storyline

“I Am Singh” is the story of a young Sikh named Ranveer Singh based in India whose elder brothers are citizens of America. His world turns turtle when he receives a call informing him that one of his brothers is dead, his father is seriously injured and his other brother is missing.

On arriving in the U.S., Ranveer slowly unearths a terrible case of mistaken identities and blatant violation of laws. With the help of a Pakistani-American, Rizwan Haider, a Sikh police officer from LAPD named Fateh Singh (Puneet Issar) and Amelia White, an American human rights activist and an attorney, Ranveer fights the case for humanity.

“Sikhs have lived for approximately 114 years in America. The first gurudwara was built there in 1912. 9/11 has wiped out this entire era of bonding. After the terror attack, Muslims were targeted. Even Sardars were not left alone just because they wear turbans.

The situation has been volatile ever since. Last year in the U.K., a small boy's hair was mercilessly chopped off. When I was in the U.S. researching for my film, I was witness to the pain of a 65-year-old man who was beaten ruthlessly by local goons who told him ‘Go back to Baghdad'. I have based my film on some of these real-life incidents and on the reports I have collected from victimised families,” says Puneet.

The film has been shot in Punjab and all over the U.S., including San Francisco, New Jersey, New York and Los Angeles. The cast includes newcomers such as Gulzar Chahal, Amy Rasimas, Brooke Johnston and Rizwan Haider, with Tulip Joshi being the only recognisable name.

Asked why he has chosen non-familiar faces for the project, Puneet replies, “It was a conscious decision. We wanted the script to be the talking point. Had I roped in stars, the focus would have shifted. The budget of my film is no less than a big star cast film. Having shot in America has almost multiplied my costs by 50 times,” he reveals.

“I Am Singh” gets a global release on December 2 and Puneet is certain that his subject, the film's powerful dialogues and songs by multiple names, including Mika, Daler Mehndi, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sukhvinder, will work magic.