A new short film out of the U.K. tells the story of a British South Asian woman who makes the decision to wear a turban and commit to the path of Sikhi.
Though she feels confident in her decision, the protagonist of Kaur, Avani (played by actor, producer, and co-writer Dr. Parvinder Shergill), faces opposition from her father (played by Stephen Uppal) who is still processing his own racism and trauma endured as a turban-wearing Sikh Punjabi immigrant in England.
The film also stars Nina Wadia, who audiences may recognize from the BBC soap opera EastEnders or in the Bollywood film Namaste London, as Avani’s supportive mother.
Avani’s father tells her about how his hair was forcibly cut as a child, and alludes to the ongoing racism he faced in England, cautioning her from embarking on a path that may lead to similar hardships. The backstory took inspiration from a real incident just last year, where a five-year-old Sikh boy’s hair was cut by bullies at a school in South East London.
While Avani understands her father’s struggle and pain, her faith and personal connection to Sikhi prevails.
The film, which is set in the present day, seeks to depict a modern woman embracing the path of Sikhi, especially at a time when various aspects of our culture are being lost with each generation.
Co-writers and creators Dr. Parvinder Shergill and Juggy Sohal shared that the inspiration for the film came from the lack of representation of Sikh women who wear turbans in visual media.
Though lack of representation of people of colour in mainstream media is now a widely discussed topic, Sikh representation—and more specifically—turban-wearing Sikh women, is sparse. Highlighting the stories of turban-wearing Sikh women isn’t even on the radar for a lot of major production companies.
Shergill and Sohal wanted to change that.
“I thought, why have we never had a lead Brown role as a woman with a turban?” Shergill said in an interview with 5X Press.
“I don’t understand why it’s not normal in cinema, when it’s normal to us. The whole point of the screen is to show the reality of someone’s life, but it’s not representing that.”
Sohal, who also served as assistant director for the short film, added, “Most people hear about Singhs. But actually, if you break it down, Caucasian mainstream audiences don’t actually know what that entails, some don’t even equate a turban with Sikhism … So we wanted to introduce the world to what Kaur means.”
This is particularly important, Shergill said, because the treatment and perception of Sikh women is often different from that of Sikh men—both from within and outside our own community.
“The women in my family who are my age who are wearing a turban are really judged on it. Women especially are judged much harsher than men. If a man wears a turban it doesn’t always mean he’s pious, but if a woman does it’s a statement that she is” said Shergill.
The film is intentional in its depiction of wearing a turban as an active and beautiful choice, as opposed to something that occurs passively or due to familial pressure.
“Why can't it be a confident, elegant, intellectual choice that you make on your own? Why can [Sikhi] not be part of you innately?” Shergill said. “We really want people to watch the film and feel proud to wake up with this skin color and put their turban on. You should be proud, you're beautiful.”
Wearing a turban is a deeply important part of Sikh culture and a nuanced experience that Shergill and Sohal wanted to portray with sensitivity and care.
“We got the right people involved to educate us on it, so we can portray the story in a really positive light. You know, have that creative license, but also do it in a way that honors the community and the religion” said Sohal.
Bringing people with lived experience into the collaboration process is crucial when making films. Shergill and Sohal emphasized the value in working with others, and being genuine in one’s intention to tell stories with compassion and empathy.
“We got a script consultant on board and we've got them to kind of, fact check everything and make sure nothing is off because we don't want to offend an audience. We want the audience to be proud of this film and have the community behind this film.”
But even with all the support from the community, Shergill and Sohal were open with the barriers to getting stories with racialized folks, both in front of and behind the camera, off the ground.
They say, writing the script and getting the cast on board is the easy part.
“Actually making a film, I don’t find it that hard. But to get people that you want to recognize your work on a different level—that is very hard because it feels like it’s a member’s club. There’s a sort of old school, Caucasian male club and you really feel it,” said Shergill.
“I'm not gonna sugarcoat it, the whole process is hard, like, the creative aspect of writing a script—that is very natural to us….we've really invested in the idea of bringing in kind of untold stories to mainstream audiences, that's what we want to do, right? But the rest of it, you know, we find, and even within our own community, I don't feel like we do support each other how we should.”
Since the film was released, the pair say that the response has been overwhelming.
Both Shergill and Sohal were moved by comments from audience members who resonated with a story like Avani’s that hasn’t been represented in film on this scale before.
The creators are currently in the process of turning Kaur into a full feature film, and are excited at the opportunity to explore Avani’s story even deeper. Audiences can support the film by coming to local screenings and spreading the word on social media.
“We're ready for this film. [At the screening,] a lot of people came up to us and were like, ‘This is my film. This is my voice. This is my story. Thank you so much like, you put us on the map.’ Especially women because if there is a film that has a diverse role it’s a man, never a woman as a lead role.”
Check out @kaur_film on Instagram to stay updated with film, and for updates on screenings near you.
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