In most contemporary movies, Sikhs and Punjabis are the center of jokes. Movies coming out of the Punjabi Film Industry follow the trend as well. You will often see a Punjabi man characterized as the disgusting guy with an overgrowth of facial hair, carelessly wrapped turban, a bottle of homemade liquor hidden in his dirt-covered kurta, and a constant need to talk loudly. The Punjabi woman is the one decked out in a heavily embroidered salwaar kameez, long braid in hand, loudly saying things like “party-sharty,” “food-faad,” “dance-vance.” You get the picture.
We laugh, holding our stomachs, memorizing the comedy so we can repeat it. This is perhaps the Punjabi culture we are encouraged to observe and then replicate. Our true heritage is not represented in modern media because that heritage has the power to awaken sleeping lions. When we talk about the history of Punjab, it is nearly impossible to segregate it from Sikh history because they are intertwined like body and soul. It has taken nearly two decades for someone to talk about the true history of Punjab after 1984 and that movie has been banned by the Punjab government—which has only encouraged a larger, worldwide audience.
Sadda Haq (Our Right) is a revolutionary movie that focuses on the story of a fictional character, Kartar Singh Tara, imprisoned and labeled as a “terrorist.” Sharon Gill, a Canadian student, travels to Punjab to conduct research for her PhD thesis, “Minorities at War.” Her research allows her the opportunity to meet Kartar Singh in prison and learn his life story. Along with Sharon, the audience gets a chance to witness the various circumstances that gave birth to the “terrorists” that wreaked havoc in Punjab in the 1990s. Sadda Haq provides insight into a corrupt governmental system, where the protectors of the people are the ones who deliver inhumane torture.
For those who are not familiar with the history of bloodshed in Punjab, this movie will take you through it from a perspective that has been suppressed for several decades. If you are Sikh, you will understand why we pray in every gurdwara for the well-being and release of Sikh prisoners on a regular basis. The non-Indians will go home knowing why so many Sikhs and other minorities from the world over are seeking shelter in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and all other countries that are not their homelands. Sadda Haq unveils the true nature of the world’s largest democracy on a very small scale.
While the overall nature of the movie is quite intense, the audience is eased into it with a romantic opening. Though seamless, the music seemed to have allowed me enough time to step out of the story and simply reflect for a few moments—I did not go home humming any of the tunes, which I always do when I hear something unique, catchy, or ingenious. But that’s not a drawback to the film as a whole. The music is okay and falls into the backdrop because the story itself commands complete attention. Kuljinder Singh Sidhu, producer and lead actor, is definitely the star of the movie—the other actors also execute satisfactorily, though there are slight moments of over and underacting by some novices. Sidhu, however, gives a flawless performance; his eyes, his demeanor, and his speech are captivating to a degree that one truly begins to feel the weight of the story. Humor is interjected in a very tasteful manner and counters the mainstream comedy circus depiction of the Sikh-Punjabi culture. Caution, take a few tissues with you because I know a lot of people in the theater shed tears during certain scenes.
Some people say, “If you have young children, don’t take them with you because of graphic scenes.” I say, take them. That is the only way for them to understand where their roots really lie and what their responsibilities are towards the Sikh community. The message of Sadda Haq is exactly that; find out what your history is and use contemporary knowledge to amend past wrongs and regain stolen rights. The truth is that we are responsible for passing on our own history; the sooner parents begin this process, the better it will be for their children as they try to grow up in multicultural settings throughout the world.
Sadda Haq is a must watch for everybody, especially Sikhs. The movie does not take any religious or political sides; it simply shows the truth behind the turmoil of late twentieth century Punjab. Perhaps you will leave re-defining the word terrorist or reorganizing your life’s priorities to make room for small acts that will help us in retrieving our rights to justice.
Navdeep Kaur is a Sikh American writer currently obtaining her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from San Jose State University. More of her work can be viewed at http://aarsi-reflections.