They had a dream...and they realised it

Three IT engineers from the region have brought to fruition their vision of doing sewa for their community. Through Sahibzade, they have made available a slice of Sikh history to the younger generation, reports Aruti Nayar

Bakhtawar Singh and Navneet Singh at Vismaad, their office in Mohali
Bakhtawar Singh and Navneet Singh at Vismaad, their office in Mohali. — Photo by Parvesh Chauhan

Sahibzade: A saga of Valor & Sacrifice’, the first of its kind depicting an event from Sikh history, leaves one spellbound. An animation film that portrays the events leading to the martyrdom of Guru Gobind Singh’s sons, Baba Zorawar Singh and Baba Fateh Singh, the youngest martyrs in history, it was a labour of love for Navneet, Sukhwinder and Bakhtawar, three IT professionals from the region.

Navneet was educated in Delhi and Amritsar, Bakhtawar, was a student of Punjabi University, Patiala and Sukhwinder of Guru Nanak Dev University. Settled for the past 13 years in Singapore, Bakhtawar did his MBA from there and is running a successfyul software company. He wanted to connect to his cultural moorings. When Navneet bemoaned how the kids lacked accurate knowledge of Sikh history, Bakhtawar decided to back them up. What was just an idea on the drawing board stage soon aquired a life of its own and became an all-consuming passion. Sukhwinder even sold his ancestral house in Ludhiana to finance the film.

An artist working on the sketches of Sahibzade
An artist working on the sketches of Sahibzade

The film, recently screened at the Spinning Wheel Festival in the US, received rave reviews and more important massive audience response. Little kids came to sukhwinder and told him how they watched the film many times over. It was their childhood grounding that spurred them to give back to their religion a part of what they had received in their growing years. They have made Sahibzade in the classical 2-D format. Says Navneet, "When we spoke to people about events from Sikh history, we realised that their knowledge was abysmal and they were poor on facts." How were the children ever going to know the exact sequence of events? With both parents working, often from 8 to 8, there was no way that they had the energy to tell their children stories. They knew animation would grip the interest of all, after all was it not difficult to wean kids away from the tube as they watched cartoons? Why could not these very animated films be from their own culture?

The problem of alienation was more pronounced abroad because of peer pressure kids did not want to be different but if they were made proud of their culture, this verty difference would be a source of strength. It was this that saw them put their money in it and, more important, give of themselves wholeheartedly. As Bakhtawar says, "It was our desire to reach out to children who were being bombarded by images from the electronic media. We wanted to inform and educate as we entertained. The oral tradition, a strong part of our tradition was breaking just like the joint family system in which grandparents played the role of transmitters of ancient wisdom. Now tv was the granny.

As Navneet says, "It was very important not to offend any one." So they deliberately did not create any hype or even publicise their work. They wanted the medium to speak for itself and the film to be their best advertisement. "We will not do anything to belittle our Gurus and though we are not against profits, the money that we make from this venture will only be invested in this. For our livelihood, we will continue to bank upon our profession." Bakhtawar will ensure the IT contracts keep coming. During the making of the film they felt the Guru’s meher as it were.

During the Animation Film Festival in Hyderabad some time back it was announced that all those who would dabble with original content would be burning their fingers and as Sukhwinder puts it, "We have successfully burnt our fingers." They worked with the latest equipment and a dedicated team which laboured on the sketches and the art work. Their company is named Vismaad, which is from Asa ki vaar and means wonderstruck. They want to dub Sahibzade into English so that it has a wider appeal. The script, written by Inderjit Singh Goognani, is based on Nikkian Jindan Vadha Saka by the SGPC. The songs have been sung by Chandigarh-based artist Brijesh Ahuja and the voiceover is by Shammi Narang.