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I Dont Fear Death But I Fear Death Of My Conscious

Discussion in 'Sikh Youth' started by Aman Singh, Aug 23, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    I Don't Fear Death, I Fear Death of My Conscious
    YouTube - OCEAN OF PEARLS final trailer

    By Sarab Neelam's count, there's exactly one Sikh film director on planet Earth, and he's about to go slide a scope down someone's throat.
    "A scope on somebody from the top," says Neelam, going over his morning schedule at St. John Macomb Hospital, "and then a scope on somebody from the bottom. And I have to put a feeding tube in somebody."
    Hollywood, here he comes.

    Neelam, a gastroenterologist from Troy, will tell you that medicine is an art. He'll also tell you that after your first few thousand procedures -- all done with love and care and devotion, of course -- they're every bit as exciting as an oil change.

    Movie-making, on the other hand, is an adventure. An expensive adventure so far, but still rewarding. And it all started with a heart attack ... but we'll get back to that later.

    The important thing right now is that Neelam, an utter but well-prepared amateur, directed a movie called "Ocean of Pearls" that's on actual movie screens in multiple cities. It's a love story, a medical story and an exploration of what it's like to be a Sikh in the United States, and people are paying money to sit in large dark rooms and eat popcorn and watch it.
    It's been held over for two weeks at the Landmark Maple Art in Bloomfield Hills and one week at the AMC Forum in Sterling Heights, and it opened Friday in San Francisco. The gross for its first weekend here was $7,523 -- a trifle behind the $54.7 million collected by "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," but then, "G.I. Joe" was on 4,006 more screens.

    "Ocean of Pearls," whose trailer is at the top of this column, could have also done eight figures, Neelam contends, if the big distributors weren't so thoroughly averse to a movie about people in turbans. That sort of reluctance is one of the reasons he felt compelled to make it.


    Inconvenient misunderstandings

    Sikhs usually wear turbans, but they didn't bomb the World Trade Center. Neither did the Muslim guy at your accountant's office, who most likely has never worn a turban in his life.

    Neelam is wearing one as he starts his day with scrambled eggs and a mini-muffin in the St. John cafeteria. ("This hospital food," he says, "is going to kill you.") Wrapped beneath it is chest-length hair that Sikhs leave uncut because if God put it on your head, he must have had a reason. Neelam, 48, also has a long and slightly unruly beard that he pins beneath his chin.

    It's a combination that frequently attracts the attention of airport security screeners, an inconvenience he wrote into "Ocean of Pearls." When he stands to stretch mid-flight, he says, he can see other passengers squirm. And for better or worse, it's not just un-worldly Americans who give Sikhs the short end of the Stikh.

    Never mind that Sikhism was born in India and most of its 23 million adherents live there; according to Neelam, not even Bollywood has ever crafted a movie with a Sikh as the lead character. So he did.

    Decades in making

    He'd been fascinated with film since he was 7, three years before his family moved from India to Toronto, and he owned an 8mm camera in high school. In medical school, he told teachers that someday he would make a movie.
    Ultimately, he began to ask himself, "Are you going to talk, or are you going to shoot?" And then someone from the Detroit Free Press had a coronary.
    It was 1985 or '86, and a former Free Press editor had just won a Best Screenplay Oscar for "Out of Africa." "Hey," Neelam said, "do you know Kurt Luedtke?"

    Sure, said the patient, whom Neelam insists had been stabilized before he asked. "You should call him."

    Neelam did. "I want to make a movie," he declared.

    "Are you crazy?" Luedtke said. But then he began dispensing advice and sharing contacts, and a few short decades of clinics and seminars later, Neelam was directing his made-in-Michigan movie.

    The cost so far is about $1.5 million, half of it from Neelam. Everyone tells him the real money comes from selling DVDs, and he's still holding out hope for a distribution deal. The Detroit News' Tom Long gave "Ocean" a C+ and Variety was snippy, but other reviews have been favorable, and word of mouth has been strong. He's encouraged enough to start plotting a children's adventure, a comedy and a Caribbean musical: "They're ready to go in my brain."

    At the hospital, meanwhile, he's the biggest thing since Jell-O. "I still have my ticket," says an operations coordinator named Cheryl Wuttke. "I want you to sign it."

    She goes to fetch it, and he offers an embarrassed shrug. "I'm a nobody," he says. But he's the very best Sikh movie director around, and he could be somebody soon.
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