After being shrouded in controversy for a long time, Nanak Shah Fakir is finally set to release this April, three years after its scheduled release when it was removed from cinemas worldwide following a mass Sikh protest. Based on the life and works of Guru Nanak Sahib, Nanak Shah Fakir faced opposition from certain Sikh groups for featuring objectionable sequences that depicted the physical form of the spiritual leader.
Prior to its scheduled release in 2015, Nanak Shah Fakir was well-received across various international film festivals including Cannes, Sikh Film Festival in Toronto and Sikhlens Film Festival in California.
The film has now been vetted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) after the makers incorporated the suggested changes. Nanak Shah Fakir stars veteran actor Arif Zakaria in the pivotal role of Bhai Mardana, the first disciple of Guru Nanak.
Here, Zakaria talks about the film, the controversy that shrouded it, the changing role of technology in modern-day storytelling
What are the makers of Nanak Shah Fakir trying to convey through the film?
A film with such a subject needs time and patience. Guru Nanak is a universal phenomenon. A film on his life is bound to give rise to different reactions and discourses. The intention of the filmmakers is to spread the message of Guru Nanak and use the film as a platform to encapsulate his life and teachings. I have played the part of the protagonist Bhai Mardana through whom the story unfolds. He was the first disciple and follower of Nanak.
The film is set for a Baisakhi release now that it has been vetted by the SGPC. How important is it for the filmmakers to seek consent from the respective religious communities/associations?
It was necessary for the filmmakers to gain the assent of the main groups involved. The highly revered status of Baba Nanak necessitates this. The core bodies are the custodians of the message and belief of the community and hence the need to gain their approval.
Guru Nanak Sahib has been portrayed in the film through the use of computer graphics. As an industry veteran, how do you see technology’s changing role in cinematic storytelling?
I fear becoming redundant with this onset of technology. It has been a decade of tremendous conflict between the artist and the machine.
Visual effects have changed the art of storytelling and imagery. It’s all for the best I think. Great stories now need a simple machine and zealous minds to be told.
Nanak Shah Fakir also stars veteran actor Tom Alter who passed away last year. It would be one of his last films to release theatrically. What was it like to work with him?
I knew Tom for a while from our involvement in various other projects. He was an erudite and intelligent person and passionate about sports. It was always fun working with him. I have fond memories of our numerous discussions on diverse subject matters.
The film’s songs, composed by Uttam Singh, are rendered by maestros like Pundit Jasraj and Bhai Nirmal Singh with the likes of AR Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar contributing to music, sound and lyrics. What are your thoughts on its music?
The producer, Harinder Sikka, has tried his best to enthuse the film with a robust and accurate musical score in sync with the film, its era and the narrative style.
In India, films about historical/religious figures invariably end up creating a lot of commotion. How can the state ensure that such situations are avoided?
In a diverse country like India, where historical characters are revered and worshipped, there is bound to bescrutiny over their depiction.
There is no foolproof mechanism by which the state agencies (such as the CBFC) can ensure complete freedom to the maker if the subject matter is such. But people should not overreact in such a situation.