Nanak Shah Fakir-- A Film, A Journey
Nanak Shah Fakir
The Citizen is happy to announce a fortnightly column by the well known actor---theatre and film and Urdu connoisseur---Tom Alter. He has acted in this movie Nanak Shah Fakir, a film that has been banned by the Punjab government and was pulled out from all theatres across the country just a couple of days after Alter saw it in Delhi.
Two days ago, on a hot, sultry Delhi afternoon, I watched this film at the Odeon Cinema near Connaught Place – I wanted to watch it at the Odeon for nostalgic reasons, because I had watched many films there in the 60’s and 70’s – and I felt that Nanak Shah Fakir more than deserved a little nostalgia, a little special attention – and I was, thankfully, proven right.
For it is not a film – it is an epic painted in most beautiful, intimate, cinematic miniatures – it is not only the story, the fable, the truth of Guru Nanak Ji, it is the overwhelming sweep of a time in our nation’s history when change was rife, when questions were being asked – a time of violence, of hatred, of passion, and of unbelievable concern and humanity, in the form of Guru Nanak Ji.
As he and Mardana roam and seek and ask and answer, we are shown not only India or the birth of the Sikh religion, we are shown the fields and hills and oceans and lakes where truth is born – and always will be.
Sartaj Singh Pannu, as the director, has created subtle moments amidst the clamour of history – the performances are all restrained and truthful – amidst a cast of excellence. Arif Zakaria as Mardana and Adil Hussain as the Rai-sahib stand out – Arif for the sheer strength of his journey, and Adil for the restrained passion as one of the first people to recognize Nanak for what he was.
Sartaj has an amazing eye for locations – and for visual wonders – as you watch the film, you are pulled without and within – again and again – the yak sequence in the snow-bound hills, the hermits in their cave (I must make mention here of the special make-up for Uday Chandra in this sequence, and his wonderful performance) – and Mardana’s tireless efforts to fetch the water – this whole portion of the film is the sweep of the film at its best – and when the hermit finally says that he is now a disciple of Guru Nanak Ji, he is speaking for an entire age.
The camerawork is breathtaking, but it never takes away from the story – the editing is never hurried, except in the battle scenes – the music is uplifting – deep, peaceful, and yet immensely powerful.
Harinder Singh Sikka, whose dream this film is, deserves all the praise for seeing his dream come true – he knows and we know and Guru Nanak Ji knows the truth, and nothing more needs to be said.
May this film rise above all controversies and be seen around the world – not only by the Sikh community, but by lovers of cinema, of the truth, and of the play of history.
As we left Odeon that afternoon, and went in search of our taxi in the humid heat of our capital city, all seemed in place, in harmony, and even the taxi-wala was waiting for us as he had promised – it was as if Guru Nanak Ji had blessed the afternoon, and our journey.
Our heartfelt thanks to Sartaj and Sikka-sahib and their team –
I also played a role in the film, and I only bring this point up to say that each morning for five hours I went through the make-up process, lovingly done, tedious nevertheless – but as I watched myself on the screen, I fully realized the passion and commitment of Sartaj and his entire team, for the scenes worked so well, the make-up added so much, and I was not only proud to be part of this film, but humbled, too.
Films are all born out of dreams – at least the great ones – and it takes unbelievable grit, courage, passion, stubbornness, and a little luck and charm for a dream to finally become a film. To be part of the dream of Nanak Shah Fakir becoming a film - - behind and in front of the camera – was a challenge and a joy, and the greatest joy was to sit in Odeon and watch the magic unfurl on the screen.