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Sikh News KAMBDI KALAAI - a Review by Dr. I J Singh

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Dr. I J Singh, Jul 27, 2006.

  1. Dr. I J Singh

    Dr. I J Singh
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    KAMBDI KALAAI Reviewed by I.J. Singh
    E-mail: ijs1@nyu.edu

    Sikhs have come a long way from the caricatures of them popularized by
    Bollywood over the past 50 years. Keep in mind that Bollywood is at
    this time perhaps the largest movie making enterprise in the world; more
    commercial movies are made there than in Hollywood, or anywhere else for
    that matter.

    Punjabi characters, who are Sikh in appearance, have in Bollywood movies
    served only one purpose over the years: to get a cheap laugh. The more
    outrageous the character, the louder the guffaws. Punjabi movies toed a
    similar line, for that’s where lay commercial success. Add to this
    formula, turbaned Sikhs in clumsy roles, mega-decibel bhangra, and the
    equivalent of slapstick comedy, and that was a sure-fire formula for
    commercial success.

    It is only in the past five years that some Punjabi movies, particularly
    by Gurdas and Harbhajan Mann, have even attempted to explore issues
    stemming from the large scale diaspora – matters like arranged
    marriages, changing attitudes and cultural norms, dynamic shifts in
    political and cultural loyalties. I should add here the very successful
    movies of Gurinder Chadha in English. She has taken a very thoughtful,
    yet eminently entertaining look at Punjabi culture. But the image of
    Sikhism has remained largely mixed in most of these movies. I suppose
    the few but small positive changes are owed substantially to the
    increasing Sikh diaspora - its political muscle, its financial
    prosperity, and growing awareness of its Sikh roots.

    But the lot of the turbaned Sikh in movie imagery has generally remained
    where it always has been; the portrayal of Sikh themes hasn’t changed a
    bit. Given this reality, Kambdi Kalaai, the latest entrant into this
    genre of films, is an absolute pleasure. It is a small step in the
    burgeoning movie business, but for Sikhs it is truly a giant leap

    In the short space of one hour, this art film by a young moviemaker, Ish
    Amitoj Kaur, probes several levels of our Sikh reality. Love and
    marriage are recurring themes in life, as they are in this short movie
    as well. Ish highlights the minefields of interreligious and
    intercultural dating; Punjabi cultural norms, our realities in the
    diaspora, how little many Sikhs, who swear by their religious label,
    know of what they profess. Even the bloody events of 1984 have found
    space; they deserve to, because their effects on Sikhs are going to be
    lasting. How should we look at ourselves in a different cultural
    reality? In other words, how to become good Americans while remaining
    good Sikhs is the question; after all, these two terms are not mutually

    Set and made in New York, the unexcelled Mecca for immigrants, Kambdi
    Kalaai is a product of the Sikh diaspora. The actors in it are mostly
    young amateurs. There are very few seasoned players, but
    writer-director Ish Amitoj handles them with rare aplomb and a sure
    touch. She has a good eye for the romantic scene without the bathos, and
    for rendering conflict without becoming a tearjerker, as Indian movies
    unfailingly do. In Kambdi Kalaai, recognizable (keshadhari) Sikhs occupy
    center stage as main characters, for they are the story. The music and
    lyrics are simply superb. The influence of Bhai Veer Singh, a legendary
    iconic scholar – I would call him the preeminent public intellectual of
    Sikhism – stands out.

    If I have any criticism of Kambdi Kalaai, it is that there are so many
    intertwined vignettes of Sikh life in it and so little time. Even the
    most ordinary lives are extraordinarily complex; unraveling them demands
    time and single-minded pursuit. Each theme deserves fuller treatment.
    The translations of Punjabi appear as subtitles in English and it seems
    to me they need some polishing at times.

    This screening of Kambdi Kalaai was at the ninth annual Long Island
    International Film Expo in Bellmore, New York, where independent
    filmmakers submitted 155 films that were screened from July 11 to July
    20; there were entries from California to New York, and from Ireland to
    Israel. This was the only film on a Sikh theme. But, despite a
    burgeoning Sikh community in Long Island, there were less than ten Sikhs
    in the audience. I am sure for a Bollywood song and dance on celluloid,
    thousands would happily stand in line. This baffles me, for
    qualitatively, Kambdi Kalaai, stands heads and shoulders above many
    moneymakers. And it is thought provoking; that is not an epithet that
    fits the large majority of Indian movies. The entrée of a movie on a
    strictly Sikh theme into an International festival of films with a host
    of differing subjects by a variety of young filmmakers is a notable

    Kudos to Ish Amitoj Kaur, who wrote and directed it, are deservedly
    extensive. She is young, at the beginning of her career, and shows
    great promise. I am sure we will hear from her and her voice will only
    become stronger and more focused.

    July 21, 2006
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  3. hps62

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    Dec 8, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Kudos to Ish Amitoj Kaur, who wrote and directed it, are deservedly
    extensive. She is young, at the beginning of her career, and shows
    great promise. I am sure we will hear from her and her voice will only
    become stronger and more focused.

    I could not agree more

    Ish has done us all proud.



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