Updated December 5th, 2023 at 15:44 IST
Guneet Monga's animated short on American Sikh superhero shines spotlight on inclusivity
The film is directed by Ryan Westra with a run time of just under 10 minutes that tells the real-life story of US-born, turban-clad Sikh Vishavjit Singh.
An animated short film, with Michelin-star chef and filmmaker Vikas Khanna and Oscar-winner Guneet Monga as executive co-producers, shines the spotlight on inclusivity, kindness, resilience and acceptance through the real-life story of its protagonist - an American Sikh "superhero".
Khanna and Monga, who won the Oscar this year for The Elephant Whisperers', are Executive Producers of the Oscar-qualified American Sikh', an animated short film directed by Ryan Westra with a run time of just under 10 minutes that tells the real-life story of US-born, turban-clad Sikh Vishavjit Singh.
I always saw the superheroes in Sikhs, Khanna said as he hosted a special screening of the film at his residence here. He underlined that Sikhs are always among the first to respond with help and support during calamities and difficult times.
Sikhs were always superheroes. They have been the protectors of our daughters, mothers, Amritsar-born Khanna said, adding that he had always found shelter, food, love, care and a sense of belonging in Gurudwaras.
So for me to be associated with this (film) was very, very clear, Khanna said. It takes guts and courage to stand up and to fight evil and hate with so much compassion and love, he said, adding that it takes immense courage to not accept what people think and change their perception, which Singh is endeavouring to do with his film and work.
India celebrates diversity like no one else, Khanna said, adding that he aims to take this story about Sikhs to a much larger audience. We have to tell people who we are - it could be through restaurants, books, TV, documentaries, movies.
The makers of the film are on a journey to get 'American Sikh' shortlisted for Best Animated Short at the Oscars next year. Later this month, the film will be screened at the Asia Society and at the Sikh International Film Festival in the city.
Singh, who is the film's director/producer, is a New York City-based illustrator, writer, performance artist and creator of Sikhtoons.com.
Through the animated short, the Washington-DC-born Singh tells his story of living in India in his younger years and then returning to America as an adult, the challenges he faced, not feeling welcomed and trying to fit in the American society.
I felt a new desire to stand out as myself rather than blend in as no one, Singh narrates in the film.
The short film also chronicles the struggles Sikhs faced in the US in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks, being abused and attacked for wearing turbans and being called names such as Terrorist' and Osama bin Laden.'
Singh states in the film that after the 9/11 attacks, he went from being seen as an outsider to being seen as a villain.
It is then that he decides to don this new identity of Sikh Captain America'.
Sikh Captain America is changing the narrative on Sikhs (and anyone else who may not look traditionally American) creating a new American hero that challenges societal expectations and norms. This film also follows his journey of accepting his own identity, according to the film's website.
People have grown up idolising superheroes for decades. Sikh Captain America may not fight evil monsters, but he takes on hate and intolerance that are sadly still very much part of our contemporary society. That's why an animated documentary, much like the superhero cartoons we've all grown up watching, is such a unique way to raise awareness about Sikhs domestically and internationally in a style that people of all cultures and ages can enjoy, it says.
Underscoring the importance of spreading awareness about Sikhism, Singh stressed that children in schools across America must be educated about Sikhs.
We (have) got to work with kidsWe need to have Asian American Pacific Islanders, including Sikh stories in our schools. Not just learning about who Sikhs are and where they hail from. If you're born here, start your story here, Singh said. My hope is certainly yes, I'm telling Sikh stories but I want to create films that have a lot of different characters.
You want to tell a really beautiful story, and then let people ask questions, Singh said.
Singh added that nearly 600 people have supported him and his short film. He said that in this journey many strangers have come forward, showing empathy and extending their support to him over the years.
Go out and just take care of strangers. If you see somebody down, just take care of them, Singh says.
The screening event's co-host, CEO and co-founder of digital agency Digimentors Sree Sreenivasan said that in the aftermath of 9/11, the Sikh community was attacked, targeted and called names but the Sikhs went out of their way and took the blows and tried to educate others about their identities and culture.
Responding to a question on anti-semitism in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Singh said Right now, it's a very strange time we're living in where anti-semitism and Islamophobia both are peaking. And then as an extension, Sikhs and others are also getting targeted. It's a very difficult moment.
Published December 5th, 2023 at 15:44 IST