Sikh animated movie ‘Supreme Motherhood’ – Personal reflections

On a personal level, watching the movie was a very emotional experience. Indeed, when Mata Sahib Kaur, dressed in her beautiful Bana, was fighting like a true warrior, I had goosebumps. During the fight scenes, because of the detail of the animation and powerful soundtrack, and the fact that in the past I had done shastra vidya, I almost felt like I was there in the battle scene. Every time Mata Sahib Kaur waved her sword, I felt like it was my arm. - MANJIT KAUR

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By Manjit Kaur (UK) | OPINION |

There is a common saying that ‘you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. It is used to show how sometimes there are situations where a person can be blamed or considered wrong no matter what he or she does. It reflects an atmosphere of mistrust and even fear, something that I am sure many Sikhs will be able to relate to, especially in today’s social media age where reputations can be made and destroyed by the virtue of a tweet or Facebook post.

A few weeks ago, I attended an invitation-only premiere of the animated movie ‘Supreme Motherhood’, which depicts the life of Mata Sahib Kaur, the wife of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th and last Guru of the Sikhs. The release of the movie had been keenly anticipated and one could feel a real sense of expectation amongst the 300 or so guests at the Imax Cinema at Millennium Point in Birmingham. What was great about the audience on the night was that it was so varied. We had young and old, male and female, Amritdhari and Sehajdhari. There was a buzz of anticipation as we waited to be let into the cinema.

Along with the buzz, because of some of the adverse reporting about the movie in the media, I could also feel a sense of anxiety. Given that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had refused to give their approval amid allegations that the movie was factually inaccurate, I was concerned that we might be seeing a repeat of the events that took place in 2015 concerning the animated film Nanak Shah Fakir based on the life of Guru Nanak. It’s worth recalling that despite winning many awards, following protests from some Sikh groups claiming that it was wrong to depict Sikh figures through actors, and historically inaccurate, Nanak Shah Fakir was banned! There were also questions raised about the character producers of the film and their motives. Interestingly, though the sequence of events was different, almost identical concerns had been raised about the movie Supreme Motherhood.

Arriving at the movie theatre and seeing many familiar faces, and no sign of any protesters, gave me a sense of comfort. I felt reassured that by attending the premiere along with many other respectful Gursikhs, I was not acting against the interests of the Panth. Given the current leaderless and confused state of the Panth, I often feel like the only real source of direction for me is Guru Granth Sahib and my commitment to human rights, especially freedom of expression and belief. Of course, with these freedoms, comes responsibilities, but it is also true that we cannot please all the people all time, so we need to also tolerate differences of thought and opinion.

The morning after attending the movie premiere I did write a short review, which was mostly positive, and posted it on Facebook. But, almost instantly, I received comments from some Facebook friends drawing attention to objections that had been raised about both the content of the movie and the character of those behind the production. To avoid becoming entangled in the controversy, in what can only be described as an act of self-censorship, I deleted the post. Rather than ‘banning’ we should develop the capacity to intelligently challenge those who knowingly or accidentally misrepresent Sikhi.

Since making that choice to delete my thoughts on the Motherhood movie, I have not felt comfortable as it’s not in my nature to stay silent. And so, given that to date the movie has been watched by many Sikhs across the world, and that the views of those objecting to the film and the filmmakers are in the public domain, I felt it was right that I express my thoughts and feelings, too. In doing so, please note, that I am in no way passing judgement on those who were behind the making of ‘Motherhood’, but simply expressing my feelings about the movie itself.

When I was young the only way we could find out about Sikhi was through the Gurdwara. But if I am honest, though I loved to attend and listen to the katha and kirtan, I didn’t understand much and as a result knew very little about Sikh history. But today’s generation, with the advent of the internet and multimedia, are so lucky; there is so much available for them, especially movies like this animation.

Of course, it is not enough to have an animated movie, there is the question of historical accuracy, quality of the script, quality of the picture and sound. I am no expert, but my impression is that Motherhood is perhaps the best animated Sikh movie to date. But I think what impressed me the most was the way it challenged gender stereotypes. As a woman and someone who has always been presented with male role models, seeing a movie where a Sikh woman is depicted as a strong leader of the Khalsa, was truly an eye-opening, inspiring and emotional experience.

I know one of the aims of the producers was to tell the often-ignored stories of women in Sikhi, and they must be congratulated for this. Sadly, much of the Punjabi media depicts women and girls as weak, helpless, and the property of men. So in my mind, both to empower women and young girls, and to give a message to young boys and men about the importance of gender equality, there was a need for a movie like Motherhood. And in this regard, I am sure the movie will have a big impact.

On a personal level, watching the movie was a very emotional experience. Indeed, when Mata Sahib Kaur, dressed in her beautiful Bana, was fighting like a true warrior, I had goosebumps. During the fight scenes, because of the detail of the animation and powerful soundtrack, and the fact that in the past I had done shastra vidya, I almost felt like I was there in the battle scene. Every time Mata Sahib Kaur waved her sword, I felt like it was my arm. The spirit that these scenes awakened within me made me feel so strong, which is difficult to describe; I am sure other women and girls must have felt the same sense of empowerment.

One of the objections raised by the SGPC is that making movies and cartoons depicting the Gurus, is against Sikhi! I find this bizarre given the many depictions of our Gurus in pictures exist already, and animations are nothing more than moving pictures. For sure we should never allow real actors to play the role of the Guru, but besides this, we must move with the times. In today’s multimedia world it is important to make the most of technology to tell our history. And what better character to choose than Mata Sahib Kaur. It is by embracing new technologies that we engage the younger generation.

Ultimately what matters is the stories we tell, and sadly, to date in teaching about Sikh history we have ignored the contribution of women. We Sikhs always claim that there is equality in Sikh, but the way our history is told we focus mostly on the achievements of men. It’s a shame that we talk so little about the role of female heroes like Mata Sahib Kaur and it is so important in today’s world that the next generation is given access to this history, otherwise, they might feel Sikhi is not for them. Why have we forgotten the history of Sikh women is a complicated question, but it was amazing and refreshing to see a movie challenging gender stereotypes by focussing on Mata Sahib Kaur, a leader who led the Khalsa army in such an inspiring way.

As for the protests against the move, no doubt these will rumble on and we will go from one ‘controversy’ to another. For sure the Panth reserves the right to challenge any writer, filmmaker or preacher, who seeks to bring Sikhi into disrepute. However, in the absence of a consensus on a whole range of aspects of Sikh history and tradition, it is difficult to see how this can be achieved. Moreover, any objection must be within the broad principle of freedom of speech, belief and consciousness, something that the Sikh Gurus sacrificed so much for.

Ultimately, the only way to safeguard our history and heritage is to build excellent research and scholarship. It is to broaden and deepen an understanding of Sikhi rather than focus on the surface level and ritualistic aspects, which sadly is increasingly the case. Most importantly, we need to educate the Sikh masses to develop a critical understanding of Sikhi, Sikhi history, Sikhi scripture and Sikh traditions.

New technologies bring with them opportunities and threats. However, what we can’t do is simply ignore these developments and close our eyes. We live in a technological age where we are increasingly getting our knowledge and learning through multimedia. For sure nothing can replace going to the Gurdwara, sitting in the Sangat and listening to kirtan and katha. But, today, by voting with their feet, young people are not attending Gurdwaras and they do not engage with the current crop of Sikh preachers. They get their knowledge and information through a wide range of electronic media and that means we need to make the most of the technology of our age.

Manjit Kaur, a UK-based therapist and counsellor, is a presenter of the 1 Show on Akaal Channel. She can be contacted via email at manjitkaur1show@gmail.com

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