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It’s A Wonderful Afterlife

Gurinder Chadha of Bend It Like Beckham fame returns with a new film, titled “It’s  A Wonderful Afterlife.”  The movie centers on the trials and tribulations of Rupy, a slightly overweight 20-something year old and her zealous Punjabi mother, who will stop at nothing to see her daughter happily married – including killing a few people along the way.

The film is being billed as a ‘zom-rom-com’ and is receiving rather mixed reviews in the UK.  The film gives Punjabi billing on its soundtrack to well-known producers and artists, such as Panjabi MC, Kidd Skilly, and even Taz of Stereo Nation.  See the trailer here and look for an interview with the film-director with Al-Jazeera’s Robert Frost after the jump.  If you’ve seen the movie or are waiting for it, tell us your thoughts!

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Young Sikh Girl Hopes to Audition for Glee

By now, everyone should have heard of Glee – a musical comedy-drama television series focusing on a high-school glee club.  A glee club is a musical group which traditionally specializes in the singing of short songs.  Before writing this blog post, i didn’t quite know how big this phenomenon was… but apparently it’s big and there is a large following of gleeks and gleemania

A young Sikh girl by the name of Raveena is hoping to audition and land a role on the show.  There is a Facebook page dedicated to helping “Raveena get on the show”.   

n113429498682986_3996.jpgI am auditioning for this TV show called Glee, I trust that you have heard of it and I need your help. As a Sikh, its been really hard for me to land roles in a more professional environment because there are very few roles available for Indians. With the nationwide casting call for Glee, I can hopefully show everyone what I’ve got and get a call back for a show that is looking for people who don’t quite fit the mold.

Here on TLH, we love to highlight Sikhs who are pursuing their passions.  Watch Raveena’s video and if you like it – take a few moments to rate/comment on her video so that she has a chance to audition for the show.

Pakistani Sikh Singer

We know there is a sizable Sikh population in Pakistan, despite many Sikhs who were forced to migrate to India during partition.  In 2008, the Pakistani Sikh Anand Marriage Act was passed in Pakistani, which allowed Sikhs in their marriage certificates as Sikhs.  Currently in India, Sikhs are identified as Hindus in marriage certificates.

Interestingly, I came across this music video by Jassi Singh Lailpura (i.e. Jasbir Singh) , a Pakistani Sikh.

He also gave an interview on a morning Pakistani television show where he talked more abut his music and life.  Lailpura believes that a Pakistani is not defined by a religion or race, but by someone who believes it to be their country.  It is obvious from the interview that he is a proud Punjabi Sikh from Pakistan. He talks about the impact of Partition on a Sikh woman.  You can watch his interview below.

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More Bollywood and Sikhs: Patiala House

This time, Bollywood actually picked an interesting lens through which to depict life in a Punjabi-Sikh household.  An southhall_gurdwara.jpgupcoming movie, Patiala House, is a look at cross-generation cultural assimilation in Southall.

At heart, says Nikhil, Patiala House is a father-son story. “Like Billy Eliott where the father is a coal miner but the son wants to be a dancer.  In my film, Rishi Kapoor feels his dreams as a Sikh immigrant in England are being destroyed by his son. But the son Akshay Kumar has his own dreams to pursue.” [TOI]

How we view our 2 pronged identity of Punjabi-Sikhism, and how each is depicted by outside communities such as Bollywood is often, understandably and rightfully, a controversial issue.  But Patiala House seems only superficially concerned, if at all, with the Sikh identity.

The filmmakers met with Sikh elders at the Southhall Gurdwara, where cameras are ordinarily not allowed, to talk about the ideas behind the film.  The film partly takes place during Southhall’s 1979 race riots, which many of the elders had lived through.


Rocket Singh

I normally only watch Bollywood, if ever, to laugh.  At the acting, the ridiculous stereotypes, the loony drama.

Though when the bad acting, ridiculous stereotypes, and loony drama are played out by Sikh characters, it’s a little depressing.

A lot of people would probably say that the quality of films coming out of Bollywood is improving.  And that might be true if you’re talking about cinematography, but when it comes to depth in a plot, I haven’t seen any signs of improvement.  But maybe Bollywood will pleasantly surprise its critics with Rocket Singh?

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Bollywood and Hollywood Unite To Whitewash a Dictator

byotch.jpgIt was only a matter of time.  Indira Gandhi created many myths during her tyranny.  She created the myth of herself as ‘Kali’, the goddess of destruction following the war in Bangladesh in 1971.  She created the myth of herself as “Mother India”, with a strong matriarchal love and care for her subjects.  However, the most important myth that she helped create that has long captivated western audiences was the foundational myth of India’s independence – the nonviolence of Gandhi.

Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi is one the most well-known films about the subcontinent.  In 1982, the movie was awarded the Best Picture by the Academy Awards.  Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi, and the director, Attenborough, also received individual credits.  However, few have ever delved into the politics in the movie’s creation.  In many ways, we find ourselves far removed from the world of art and into the territory of propaganda.

The funding of the Gandhi was highly unusual.  Fully one-third came directly from the national treasury – could we ever contemplate money coming directly from the Treasury Department to fund a commercial, errr I mean movie?  Propaganda at its best requires whitewashing and in the film we see a guiltless Nehru, the evil villain Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and a de-Hinduized Gandhi, without patriarchy, caste prejudices, or hypocrisy.

It was to be expected as the screenplay was checked and rechecked throughout the whole process, often directly by the then-Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi herself.   Many noted that the opening credits of the film should have had the message: “The following film is a paid political advertisement by the government of India.

I leave out a discussion for M. Gandhi for now, but will hope to take it up later.  For now, we focus on the film.  The success of the movie in terms of cultural capital cannot be emphasized enough.  It was this movie that helped solidify the myth of India as related to Gandhi – overthrowing colonial rule, nonviolent, and wedded to the belief of equality for all.  Indira Gandhi’s purchase still continues to reap rewards for India almost three decades later.

We now get the sequel.


Supporting Sikh Arts

Last weekend I attended the Sikh Lens Sikh Art and Film Festival in Hollywood. I have attended film festivals all over North America and strongly believe in their need and presence in our community. Many times, however, the events get overshadowed by the glitz and glamour – the red carpet, the photographers, the eccentric outfits… I was therefore grateful that my experience at the Sikh Arts and Film Festival was a fulfilling one – I left knowing that Sikh Arts and Films bring value to our community and need to be supported. In addition, I felt the organizers made a special effort to keep the event focused on the directors, artists, musicians, actors, authors and organizations who were present. They recognized the fact that we are all in this together. Sikh Arts and Films are only beginning to be acknowledged, there is so much potential and growth that will still occur. However, this isn’t going to magically happen overnight, and it most definitely won’t happen without the community’s support.

golden_temple.jpgI was recently told that Sikhs in the UK spend 7 times more on license plates than they do on books (yes, 7 times!). While I’m not sure of the statistic in the US, the point is clear – perhaps we’re not investing in the right places? I think as a community we have begun to establish the need to support non-profit organizations that are working to address human rights, legal, education and activism issues (although we still have a long way to go to enhance our support). However, what goes hand in hand with this is the support and advancement of Sikh Art and Media. Without a doubt, events such as Sikh Lens are helping to pave the path – however, we as a community need to ask ourselves why we are so hesitant to spend money on independent films, children’s books, on historical references and on paintings. When I think about other immigrant communities, I notice that their advancement as a community comes from their support of one another. Whether we like to admit it or not, our community is extremely frugal and competitive with each other, and unless we start to move away from those stereotypes – we will not be creating a better world for our children.


Sikh Art and Film Festival – Los Angeles

saff_logo.pngThis weekend Sikhlens will be presenting its annual Sikh Art and Film Festival 2009.  The film festival showcases the best in Sikh movie-making talents from around the globe.  It also presents a forum for aspiring Sikh artists to also come and display their burgeoning talents.  A few book launches are planned with a particular emphasis on children’s books.  Authors of A Lion’s Mane and The Royal Falcon are planned to be in attendance to do a live reading.

The inaugural Sikh Art and Film Festival will be held at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA on November 13-15th.

In previous articles on The Langar Hall, I have written about how certain Sikh-film haters groan in jealousy and spew hatred, about the Sikhs’ taking advantage of new forms of media.  Such efforts in the community should be encouraged and more platforms created.

The weekend features a number of different clusters, highlighting issues on the youth, creative Sikhs, short films, feature films, and even Remembering 1984.  The Remembering 1984 cluster on Sunday afternoon will be co-hosted with the Jakara Movement in conjunction with it’s Visions of Truth film series.

So whether you come for the entire weekend, make it out to just one cluster (at $15 pre-sale, you won’t find a better price), or at least to Sunday’s mela, check the schedule, check out the films, and make sure you come out and support Sikh arts!  We’ll be in attendance and will post on our experience after the event.

Sikhs remember 1984 this November

In keeping with a spirit of Remembrance and quest for Justice as the 25th anniversary of the Nov. 3, 1984 pogrom in Delhi nears, don’t miss out on these East Coast events! Many events have been held nationwide this past year- educating and inspiring young generations of Sikhs.  We are getting better acquainted with our history, connecting with the Sikh spirit of activism, and becoming inspired to be agents of change.

One event that has been a particular pathbreaker has been Lahir. [1, 2] Not only has it created an avenue for artists to express themselves, it has done so around an event in our community’s history that is a catalyst for many, and thus become a catalyst itself.  If you missed it in DC, don’t miss it in NY!

Lahir-NY: Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009

From the artists who brought you the original Lahir, together with additional national and local talent, get ready for Lahir – New York… [details below the fold]

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For Many, Being a Sikh Means Being an Activist

mosaic04d7a7b2ed2428b58c207456836565d64dfed88b.jpgWhile everyone seems to be pretty excited about Kamaljit topping the Billboard charts – it seems that Jay Sean is not the only musician from our community who is gaining a ton of attention lately.  In the October/November 2009 issue of East West magazine, an article by Navdeep Singh Dhillon titled, “The Brown Underground” discusses the five new names in hip-hop worth knowing. While on TLH we have featured these names in previous posts and are fans of their work – we wanted to highlight this new article as it provides a very intimate look at these artists. Musicians, rappers, emcees or whatever you may call them – they, at the end of the day, are regular guys (believe me, they are). They work, they go to school, they feel strongly about adversities that are going on all over the world. Unlike many, however, they are using their talent to channel that emotion into creativity and into their music. We definitely like what we’re hearing and whether they know it or not, these artists are paving a path for generations to come.

The article highlights the work of Canadian-based Humble the Poet and Sikh Knowledge, D.C.-based Saint Soulja of G.N.E., Hoodini from Los Angeles and Mandeep Sethi from San Francisco.  You can read about their quest into this industry and how being a Sikh plays a role (or does not) in their music.  What’s clear about these artists is that while they are Sikh, they don’t necessarily only rap about Sikh issues or only about issues affecting our community and that’s what makes them stand out in my mind.  Injustice to any group is an injustice to humanity and as Sikhs, that is something we should resist.  We can rest assured that these artists are having that dialogue.


“Meet The Grewals”-A Reality Show

Channel4.jpgGuess what a British Asian family is hitting the reality TV scene … “Meet The Grewals”  will begin filming 24/7 on November 4th in the UK.  The three-generation family will be filmed for over eight weeks.  Their lives will be aired as part of the iconic series, The Family, on Channel 4.

Director David Clews says: “I think the film captures both the big issues and the intimate moments of family life and I hope everyone will enjoy spending time with the Grewals in the same way I have.”


Is RDB really the best we have to offer?

In many ways, the Punjabi-Sikh art scene is expanding exponentially these days. Just 10 years ago, beyond major, mainstream singers, I don’t think there was an arts scene, except maybe in people’s homes. Today, there are film festivals in most major cities like Spinning Wheel and the upcoming Sikh Heritage Film Fest in NY, art exhibits in museums such as the recent exhibit at NY’s Rubin Museum and current exhibit at the London’s Victoria and Albert, and even spoken word shows like When Lions Roar and Lahir.  There are independent artists writing thoughtful lyrics, creating original beats, and giving some of our community’s concerns a voice.  One of my favorites from this summer is Humble the Poet’s “Singh with Me” featuring Sikh Knowledge.

Yet, while the number and modes of art and artists grows in our community, many mainstream musicians are following RDB.jpgmainstream trends… videos featuring  flashy cars rented for the shot, women as props, all at some party.  Maybe they’re catering to what they think the audience wants, but the audience is clamoring for what they see as glamorous… which is manufactured to cater to the whims of the audience.  This degenerative, downward spiral has led to recent hits such as RDB’s “Om Mangalam.” (See end of post.)

RDB is clearly identifiable as Punjabi-Sikh (let’s not talk about who’s a good or bad Sikh- that’s boring), wearing the now fashionable Palestinian support scarf, and singing Om Mangalam in this video on the homepage of their official site. This is definitely a case of trying to do too much and doing it all badly. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being Punjabi, singing Hindi music (while wearing a Palestinian support scarf), in a video with meaningless lyrics. It’s just not art. Some might call it entertainment, though I’d call it a train wreck.


Sikh Heritage Film Festival in NY

East coasters and others with expendable income: the Sikh Art & Film Foundation is bringing you the 2009 International Film Festival to be held at the Asia Society and Museum.sikh_art_and_film_foundation.jpg

The Festival will kick off on Friday September 18th with 3 films (My Mother India, Flying Sikhs – A History of Sikh Fighter Pilots,  and Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Via Dolorosa Project).  The night ends with a party at Asia Society’s Garden Court.  The Festival continues on Saturday with 4 documentaries (A Warrior’s Religion
Not Every Time…, Turbanology, Who Do You Think You Are – Meera Syal)  and 6 short films (Battle of Chillianwala – The Waterloo of India, Bhangra Generation, Prisoner’s Song, Street Smarts, turBAN, and
Unravelling).  Saturday concludes with the Heritage Gala After Party at Leela Lounge. Mira Nair will be honored and $15,000 in cash will be awarded to filmmakers.

A pass to all above events is only $45. Buy your tickets before they sell out!

Lose you turban and I’m outta here

The crisis of Sikh identity was once described to me in very simple terms; most Sikh males no longer want to look like Sardars and most Sikh girls don’t want to marry Sardars. In fact, I distinctly remember several Sikh guys that I went to school cutting their hair for the simple reason of “getting girls”.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen efforts on many fronts to confront this trend, including beauty pageants (Mr. Singh International), Sikh models (Sunny Singh Caberwal of Kenneth Cole and now GQ fame). Now, in a twist on the standard Sikh dharmak or religious song, Taranmpreet has released a track called “Teri Meri Bas: Sat Sri Akal”.

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Enjoy The Show But Leave Your Kirpan At Home



Vaisakhi in the diaspora usually brings two things to those living in cities with large Sikh communities: Nagar Kirtans and Vaisakhi concerts. Unfortunately, if you were an Amritdhari Sikh in London this year and you wanted to partake in both, you would have been out of luck. Tickets for the recent Gurdas Maan concert held at Wembley Arena had a unique warning printed on them, “NO KIRPANS OR SHARP OBJECTS”.

I won’t dwell too much on the irony of banning kirpans at a Vaisakhi concert, which usually start with the requisite dharmak songs, like Gurdas Maan’s tribute to Guru Gobind Singh and his contributions to Sikhi.

What I wonder is exactly what the organizers must have been thinking in doing this. I suspect the banning of kirpans probably falls under generic security rules banning knives and other weapons. In fact the terms and conditions on their website state that the “possession of any article, which is or may be used as a weapon or missile” is strictly prohibited. Pretty standard fare at all large venues.


More “Sikh” products- tv channels

More Sikh (or being promoted as Sikh) products are launching- I’m referring to the new tv channels: 1) The Sikh Channel– which is replacing Brit Hits TV and 2) Punjjabi TV

punjjabi_tv_1.jpgPunjabi and Sikh people finally have the opportunity to watch programs in their mother tongue with the launch of a dedicated Sikh channel on Sky digital 840 and the perceived arrival of Punjjabi TV coming on air as early as Monday next week. [link]

Does this increase in Sikh products mean that Sikhs will have a platform and voice which we’ve been lacking before? Not necessarily. Zee Punjabi and many other channels have already been targeting Punjabi and Sikh audiences.   So far it seems like these new channels will continue to provide the same coverage as earlier channels- sitcoms, kirtan, music, and some non-controversial news. There’s very little information available online about these channels thus far, and I’m interested to know whether they’re owned by Sikhs or just targeting a Sikh audience.

Regardless of the owners, the launch of these channels does signal that at least some parts of our community are gaining economic and social power, at least in the UK where these channels seem to be based.   And perhaps (depending on who the owners are) these channels can serve as platforms for discussing ideas that other news forms avoid, out of a desire to remain non-controversial. Or perhaps it’ll be more of the same.

Gatka by Rashpal Kaur

Many of you will fondly remember Rohanpreet’s performance on Zee TV last year.  In similar news, here is Rashpal Kaur – a young girl from Chandigarh – who recently performed Gatka on Zee TVs Dance India Dance.  The judges were not only taken aback by her performance, but also by the adversity she had experienced.  Rashpal discovered that she had a life threatening brain tumor when she was pregnant.  The treatment she received took away her vision but she was able to deliver a healthy baby boy. 

“I only wished that I could see my son once. I just ask God to lend me my eye sight back for just for three hours so that I can see my child just once,” Rashpal said. But this is one wish that has never got fulfilled for Rashpal. [link]

As an ancient martial art, Gatka  is considered a spiritual as well as physical exercise.  I was impressed with what Gatka meant to Rashpal,

I’m thankful to Dance India Dance for helping me to reach out to so many people. The citizens have shown so much concern and care for me. Before I die I want to do something for my guru Kuljeet-ji and his martial arts school where he teaches young girls about self defense. In today’s times when women are being molested and victimized every other day, I want all the women to learn this martial art form to defend themselves and their dignity.” [link]

It’s an inspiring example of how one can turn pain into something much more powerful.  You can view Rashpal’s performance after the jump.


“Sikh Knowledge”

It seems like Canada is showcasing one socially conscious Sikh rapper after another. TLH has covered “Humble The Poet” and now here is “Sikh Knowledge” from Montreal. Sikh Knowledge raps with Lotus on issues effecting the 2nd generation and marginalized peoples.

Kanwar Anit Singh Saini, a.k.a. Sikh Knowledge, is the son of Punjabi Sikh immigrants. He works in the field of speech pathology where he contributes his musical knowledge to the health sciences field.

Check out his songs below and let us know what you think!
Disclaimer: There are graphic descriptions and swear words in the videos below.


Despite profiling, the Search For Common Ground continues

Rashad_Bukhari.jpgYet another inexplicable case of profiling has come to light.  On January 26th, 36 year old Rashad Bukhari arrived from Pakistan with a valid multi-entry visa into the US.  Bhukhari is a former employee of the U.S. Institute for Peace, and currently the Urdu-language editor of the  Common Ground News Service, whose goal is to build bridges between the Muslim world and the West. The news service is funded by the Search for Common Ground, a conflict resolution and conflict prevention ngo.

Immigration officials at Dulles could have easily verified all of this if Rashad had been allowed to make a phone call or if they themselves had chosen to check. Rather, they detained him for 15 hours, temporarily took away his cellphone and laptop, and eventually put him on a plane back to Pakistan. They prepared a transcript of the encounter in which an official justifies the United States not honoring Rashad’s visa by saying, “You appear to be an intending [sic] immigrant.” [Washington Post]

Bukhari was refused entry because the immigration agent he spoke with found that he was an “intending immigrant” or that he had an intent to remain in the US.  His visa was a temporary visa (probably visitor). However, Bukhari has a wife and three children in Pakistan, a return ticket there, and a good job, all of which would normally indicate that he has no intention of remaining here in the US.  The number of connections you have in your home country is what determines whether you have ‘an intent to remain’ in the US, and Bukhari’s connections, in ordinary circumstances, would be more than enough to assure authorities that he would return to Pakistan.

In words that don’t appear on the transcript of the case, the official told Bukhari that he could “voluntarily” withdraw, return to Pakistan, and reapply for another visa, or face a five year ban.  So he left, and now faces the consequences that accompany being refused entry at a border.


Dhols at the Oscars

Judging from everyone’s facebook status (yes, this is what it has come to), people are excited about the numerous awards Slumdog Millionaire won at last night’s Oscars (yes, Jodha, I watch the Oscars too).  As was anticipated, the rag-to-riches film won Picture of the Year.  Among it’s other awards was A.R Rahman’s win for Best Song, Jai Ho

As anticipated, the Oscars presented this catergory’s nominations by a live song/dance number (the other songs nominated were another SM number, O Saya and  Down to Earth from the film Wall-E which was sung by the lovely John Legend).  The stage was full of multicultural bollywood-style dancers and instrumentalists.  And if you looked closely enough, scattered throughout the audience were dholis.  I tried to dig up some information about who these dhol players were and found nothing on the internet (PR anyone?).  However, thanks to the fact that punjabi kids know what’s going on with all things bhangra-related (not necessarily a good thing may I add), I found out that the group of guys playing the dhol were the north american group called Dhol Nation Jess & Jag Tooray and Shawn Khalsi (see the comments below for the discussion of who it was – like I said, some PR would have straightened this out).  Since the Oscars were quite clearly on a date with India last night, it was nice to see the dhol exposure.  This is the best video I could find (start watching at 2:45, and again at 5:40).  If anyone has any other information about last night’s performance – please share it with us.

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