Nanak Shah Fakir: The Dilemma & The Solution By I.j. Singh & Rajwant Singh


First a summary of the issues! Let one thing be clearly understood. History tells us that that no Founding-Guru of Sikhi – not one of the ten – ever sat for a picture or a painting. There exists no record in words, or sketch of what any Guru looked like. Sikhi is absolutely clear -- no one knows what any Guru looked like. There is no reliable account left by anyone who was a contemporary of the Gurus.

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Moreover, Sikhi clearly teaches that whatever is born of flesh must die. Whether we use the word death for the Gurus or prefer one of many euphemisms like passed away, went to a heavenly abode, or merged with God, it is undeniably true that every one of the ten Gurus in physical form went the way of all flesh.

Yet, humans that we are, we look for ways to deny the humanity of our prophets; we think that establishes their divinity and heightens their status.

Just look at how Christianity tries to separate Jesus from the two fundamental experiences that no human being can escape – birth and death. He is supposed to be virgin-born, and to have ascended to the heavens bodily and spiritually after his crucifixion and resurrection.

Islam goes a step further. There are no pictures, portraits or icons of Mohammed. Playing Mohammed in film or on stage might become grounds for a Fatwa or Jihad. Mohammed is also said to have ascended to heaven on a horse, hence the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

On the other hand, Moses has been repeatedly portrayed by actors on stage and film and so has Jesus, with nary a protest. His followers understand the educational value of such events. Hollywood produced many epics on various Biblical characters, including Moses, which helped educate the masses about these historical figures. Moses is considered a prophet by the Jews and the blockbuster “Ten Commandments” that highlighted Moses remains ever popular even after four decades. Many of us got our early education about the Jews and Judaism from this movie. Some of these Biblical sagas topped the Titanic at the box office.

Last year again, Son of God, a movie on Jesus Christ, sold out entire houses even before its scheduled release.

Sikhi emerged from the cultural realities of Northwest India where two religious cultures – Hinduism and Islam-- collided. In that part of the world, mixed cultural practices and attitudes prevail and, in many issues, Sikhi is visibly affected.

Clearly, in Sikhi, the flesh of the Guru-Founders is not important; the ideas and teachings are paramount and eternal.

In India, Sikhi flourishes in a largely Hindu society in which innumerable gods and goddesses thrive. Ordinary mortals portray them in tons of movies made every year. Their images on icons are dime a dozen. Such popular “street art” adorns calendars. Their representations are sold for pennies in the marketplace.

Sometimes actors and actresses who play the part in movies and on stage reap enormous benefits – ordinary, uneducated village folk associate holiness and godly qualities to the players and load them with donations, gifts and respect that their real lives may not deserve.

And Sikhi cringes at the idea of similar things happening to the so called pictures, icons and statues of their Gurus. Hence the Sikh injunction against any human actor playing the role of a Guru on screen or stage. Sounds almost Islamic, doesn’t it?

Nothing complicated about these matters so far, one might think. But think again.

Humans apparently have a need of visual images of Gurus to relate to; the imagery in worship services is not enough. And our cultural base is largely Hindu.

So, one can buy calendars on street corners adorned by artistic representations of Gurus. Some artists, like Sobha Singh, have been phenomenally successful. What do you think, when Sobha Singh painted a representation of Guru Nanak or Guru Gobind Singh, did a model sit for him or not? Is this a religious crime committed both by the artist and the needy model? In the 1970’s the primary Sikh regulatory body, the SGPC bought the copyright of Sobha Singh’s work and officially gave it their seal of approval.

So, icons and calendars with representations of Gurus are to be found in the marketplace as well in many homes and businesses.

We are not defending this widespread custom but we could argue, as many do, that perhaps these representations connect the viewer with the Guru and thus to the message, even if not as cleanly and clearly as we would wish. Why not let the connection flourish and hope for progress?

Of course, that requires tolerance of what exists today coupled with a vigorous continuing program of education on the status of such artifacts, and a policy that is consistent, not loaded with contradictions.

But there is always a hooker – a however!

An India-based Sikh named Harinder Singh Sikka just made a movie on Guru Nanak. (A disclaimer here that neither of us has seen the movie yet. It hasn’t yet been widely available). Apparently, an actor played the part of Guru Nanak.

And all hell broke loose.

The Gurus have themselves emphasized that their physical entity is not important. However, their lives are uniquely tied to the existence of Sikhism. The historical narratives provide inspiration to masses and many try to emulate them. Humans treasure role models and heroes because they provide a sense of hope to many.

The question is how to present these stories and narratives. Dhadees and Kathavachaks narrate with much detail the various incidents and the Gurus’ expressions and reactions which would create a picture in the minds of the listeners. The goal is the same – to connect the Sikh to the Guru.

Janamsakhi literature, an elemental Sikh tradition, mixes history, mythology and lore, not unlike many Christian parables. This body of resource material on Guru Nanak and his reaction to various situations is often instructive. How do you capture that and present it in the current social milieu. Technology and virtual reality can do wonders in breathing life into history.

A recent animation on Sikhi, Chaar Sahibzaday, broke all records for any religious movie coming out of Bollywood. Gurdwaras and Sikh families thronged to it; others served langar to encourage viewing. Many non-Sikhs in India saw it and were awed with the stories of these warrior-martyrs.

In contrast stands the example of Sarbans Daani, a recent movie on Guru Gobind Singh. Despite the fact its music was composed by the iconic master Jagjit Singh, the movie flopped on the box office. The likely reason was that it depended on still pictures of Guru Gobind Singh.

In trying new media the question is how far we can go. Remember that paintings and sketches, too, are imaginative and depend on a model. Keep in mind that the actors’ job is to capture life by stepping into the shoes of the character they portray. There is no assumption that their lives transform into that of the character.

But the movies do impact and remain etched in the minds of the people who leave the theaters inspired. It is this that we need to explore in the light of the existing ignorance about Sikhi and the lives of our Gurus who founded it. A recent poll revealed that less than 1% of Americans had heard the name of Guru Nanak, and only 8% knew anything about Sikhs. The situation in India may not be much better. Few non-Sikhs have any idea of Sikhism and Guru Nanak.

How do we fill this abysmal gap? Sikhi and Nanak’s message needs to travel outside the four walls of gurdwaras, our community TV, and radio media. Guru Nanak traveled thousands of miles to get his message across the world.

So we would suggest this. Don’t be busy banning Harinder Singh Sikka’s creative work. Look at it closely. Use the movie for education and tell people why Sikhi is better connected to the word than emotionally attached to a Guru’s physical persona.

If Guru Nanak had access to Face book, twitter or movies, would he have hesitated to click the button?

April 13, 2015


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Below is a press statement from producer Harinder Sikka aimed to put to rest concerns that have been misinterpreted by various organizations in an attempt to misinform audiences about the film Nanak Shah Fakir.

A first-of-its-kind film in about 600 years of Sikh history that is based on the life and teachings of Guru Nanak titled Nanak Shah Fakir is set to release on April17.

This statement is aimed to put to rest concerns that have been misinterpreted by various organizations in an attempt to misinform audiences about the film.


Guru Nanak has been depicted through high-end computer graphics at a VFX studio. Keeping with Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak Dev Ji has been portrayed from the back, amidst a ray of light.

It is pertinent to mention that there is no order from any of the gurus within the Guru Grant Sahib Ji that bans the use of imagery for the purposes of promoting Ek Onkar. There is only a ban on use of imagery for worshipping i.e., a ban on idolatry.


The wet glowing man is a saint witnessed by character Rai Bhullar on the night of Guru Ji’s birth who indicates that the divine soul was about to come into the world.


The sole purpose of this film is to promote Guru Sahib’s Bani and teachings through the eyes of Bhai Mardana. I think it’s fair to point that anyone who objects to the portrayal of Guru Ji’s voice should also object to Gurbani being read in a Gurudwara.


Guru Nanak was born to a Hindu family, his message of Ik Onkar (there’s but One God) and his teachings are universal. He is followed by Sindhis, Multanis, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.

To reach out to as many of His followers, the film has been made in Hindi. Also it is important to mention that the foundation stone of Sri Harmandar Sahib was laid by Mian Mir, a Muslim Peer as also the fact that the Sri Guru Grant Sahib Ji contains several different languages within it.


I would like to say that the film was shown to all members of Darbar Sahib and received support from them before bringing it to public domain. This film is about spirituality and His message.

Teachings of Guru Sahib are enormous and need to be spread in sync with new mediums such as digital media that includes the younger generation.

I would like to humbly request everybody to go watch the film with your families especially the younger generation and judge for yourselves. Guru Ji made us Sikh and taught the sparrow to fight the Hawk therefore we shouldn’t be misinformed without judging for ourselves.

A sincere attempt has been made and that too at an international level with the sole purpose of spreading Guru Ji’s message. It’s sad some sects of people are lobbying without even watching the film ironically using the same digital media to spread falsehoods.


Nanak Shah Fakir makes an endeavor to spread Guru Nanak’s teachings with a selfless motive; we pledge all earnings from the film to go towards good causes only. No income from this project shall come to the producers’ home.


Guru Ji and his family are all portrayed in the film in a loving and respectful way. Even the excesses of his father were toned down in the movie. Sikh organizations who are protesting are misinterpreting the hukam against idolatry, as also not appreciating the fact that in the past, Punjab Govt. has portrayed the family members of Guru Sahib in 1970s and 80s.

Our Gurus banned their images to be used for worshipping. They didn’t ban anybody from re-enacting their character in a theatrical performance which respectfully promotes Sikhism.

Whilst we respect Bebe Nanki and the rest of his family, as well as Bhai Mardana we shouldn’t forget that they were humans like the rest of us and it would be against Guru Ji’s hukam against idolatry to treat them in anyway other than human beings.

The actors portrayal for Guru Ji’s family members has been done with so with much love and respect in this movie.

Finally, I would like to say we would’ve loved to have put in further aspects of Guru Ji’s life, and travel and teachings, but we were constrained by time limitations in the length of the film. In order to provide full details of Guru Ji’s life, more films should be encouraged including possibly a trilogy.


Review by Bhai Baldeep Singh ji on Facebook, Movie - Nanak Shah Fakir (Hindi)

Historically this movie is very misleading - it is based on a very shoddy research. I do not doubt the intent of the producer but then being a devout (Sikh) doesn't mean one can get away with a poor understanding and ill handling of events based on reality. One cannot legitimise historical inaccuracies that too with the life story of someone as Guru Baba Nanak himself.

Reaction as I watched the film: Dark complexion hand is shown in the very beginning; Guru Nanak's voice is an issue; Mardana is uninspiring; Mardana's first meeting - the producer, who is also the dialogue writer, needs to check historicity; Costumes and sets are nice; Modi-Khana - Guru Nanak actually leaves the job immediately after the investigation but in the film he is still shown as employed at the time of him taking the long dip; River Bein dip historicity not proper (again)! - his return isn't shown properly; Namaz story also told inaccurately for the Nawab invited the Guru to offer Namaz and after he lost out, the Qazi was summoned to lead the Namaz; Naam khumari event happened with Babar and not with Daulat Khan; Malik Bhaggo story also is totally inaccurate; tabla accompanied with Nirmal Singh Ragi; The film has no impact and will not attract the youth; The casting is not impressive save a few performances - very uninspired people; Aarti is not in Dhanasri - R m P pattern in ascendency is strange; Make up of Mehta Kalu was poor - beard, plastic skin was detached; I liked the work of the actor who played the role of Rai Bular; Film is boring and too laid back; Baba Nanak costume - turban is not convincing; "Humm aap ke Sikh haiN Nanak Ji!" is so off; Mardana did not die in Kartarpur.

Good but a wasted effort, the film adds to the noise in the field and does not resolve or tell us anything. The film ending is very poor.

Watch it if you can if you only have time to spare. You won't gain anything if you watched nor will you lose anything if you didn't.

My Rating: ½/5 only for the fact that it might make you shed a tear or two by way of a reminder not that the film has anything to offer.