'There is no film festival like this India'
Arthur J Pais reports from the Sikh International Film Festival and Sikh Heritage Awards Gala.
The spirit of Ranjit Singh, the last Sikh ruler of Punjab, popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab, seemed to be present at the Sikh Heritage Awards Gala 2010, the final event of the Sikh International Film Festival. The festival ended October 23 in New York.
One of the films in the competition was director Michael Singh's Rebel Queen, the story of Singh's widow pitted against the British Empire. Also, Indian actor and lawmaker Raj Babbar, one of the three honorees at the gala, brought a segment of his 15-part saga of Ranjit Singh made for an Indian TV network.
The gala also honoured Indian entrepreneur Vikramjit Singh Sahney, who through music and videos, is trying to help young girls get better education and prepare for good jobs. He also backs many efforts to improve the condition of women in New Delhi and neighboring regions.
Image: Raj Babbar (right) being honored by Tarlochan Singh MP and Tejinder Singh Bindra President Sikh Art and Film Festival
Photographs: Snaps India
Helping young girls get better education
Artist Aparna Caur, another honouree, was a visible presence at the annual event organised by Sikh Art & Film Foundation. She and her mother Ajeet, an activist and writer, were the subject of a short film, Khanabadosh (Vagabond), which was one of the award-winners.
Directed by Mahvish Rehman, Priya Thuvassery, Swathi Bhattacharaya and Tulika, this is a 22-minutute documentary. Thuvassery says the film 'develops from their trauma of the partition and then moves on to the anti-Sikh massacre, and how each of them chose to express their trauma through their respective media'.
Another award-winning director Nina Duttaroy's Nothing is Impossible offered a lively portrait of Fauja Singh, a 99-year-old long-distance runner. He holds the record for the fastest marathon race time for a runner over 90 years old.
"There is no film festival like this India," said Tarlochan Singh, a member of the Indian Parliament, adding that there were misconceptions about Sikh culture and history in many parts of India.
Image: Aparna kaur being honored
Nothing is Impossible
The New York festival, which showed films about Sikhs made in India, Spain, the United Kingdom and North America, is in its seventh year. Singh urged the organisers to take it to India.
The auctions at the gala raised over $35,000 towards awards money and subsidising films, said Teji Bindra, president, SAFF.
"We did something special this year," he added. "We gave token cash reimbursement to filmmakers whose films were shown at the festival. Some received $1,500, some $1,000. We gave away over $35,000, including $5,000 each for the editing and post-production of the film Cancer Express, and the work in progress, Riding the Tiger, about the killings of thousands of Sikhs following the murder of Indira Gandhi."
Image: Raj Babbar
Riding the Tiger
Caur's painting Sacha Sauda (True Business), commissioned for the gala, was auctioned for $16, 500. Bindra said the winning bidder, Ajay Banga, chief executive officer, MasterCard, wanted to send it to half-a-dozen universities across America where Sikh related activities are taking place.
The first destination will be the Harvard Divinity School where the short film Holy Kitchens -- True Business made by chef Vikas Khanna will soon be screened.
"It was a very big gesture," he added. "Instead of taking the picture to beautify his home, Banga is sending it on a tour. Holy Kitchens traces the tradition of langar, free food given in Sikh temples, which was started by Guru Nanak.
When Nanak was a young man his father gave him money to start a business. Nanak was on his way to a city, but on the way he came across hermits who were hungry. And then there were people who needed money for their food. He spent all the money on them. When he returned home, his father wanted to know about the business venture. The son said, 'I have done sacha sauda'."
Image: Arpana and Ajay Banga
Helping raise $11,000 was a ball signed by Kapil Dev and bat signed by an entire cricket team led by Sachin Tendulkar, Bindra said.
"Auctioning the bat was not on our agenda," he added. "Atul Kumria, head, sales (North America), Kingfisher Airlines, came to see me with his brother Kapil. A common friend, Rajiv Bhambri, business head/COO at India Abroad, brought them to my office. Kapil, an India-based entrepreneur, is involved with Khushi, a non-governmental organisation focusing on youth started by former Indian cricketer Kapil Dev."
The Kumria brothers met Bindra to explore the possibility of joining hands in bringing Khushi to America. "As they got up to go at the end of our meeting, Kapil suddenly remembered we were holding an auction and mentioned the bat and the ball," he said. "But we had just about two days to go (for the gala). The two worked superfast in ferrying the bat to New Delhi and then to New York."
The gala, held at the New York Public Library, was attended by over 450 people. "So many people want to attend the gala that we are thinking of a hall that will hold at least 750 people," Bindra concluded.
Image: Rajeev Bambari, Atul Kumria, Prabhu Dayal and Kapil Kumria pose with the signed cricket bat.