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 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.