Godman’s Vanity Film Stirs Communal and Political Passions

Friday, January 16, 2015
Ram Rahim is the writer, director and star of the 195 minute film (photo: screen grab from trailer)

A self-styled godman has made a Bollywood film starring himself, titled rather imaginatively ‘Messenger of God’. This shows him protecting society by beating up sword-wielding bad guys, dancing with the ladies, and destroying a car with his fist. Sikh groups are protesting against the film, as they feel Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan portrays himself as a Sikh Guru.

Meanwhile, political parties have entered the fray, with the ruling BJP, eyeing the godman’s followers in north India, allowing the film to go ahead, while its regional ally Shiromani Akali Dal leads protests against the film to win over Sikh voters. Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get more complicated, the Censor Board chief has decided to resign, claiming that the approval given to the controversial film was evidence of government “interference”. This entire saga sounds like a film plot in its own right.

“I am just a messenger of god delivering his message to the people. I do not claim to have any special powers and am an ordinary human being just like you,” Ram Rahim told a large crowd that gathered to hear him in Gurgaon on Thursday evening.

The godman is the chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, a community in north India, particularly in Haryana, that has clashed with the larger Sikh community.

Ram Rahim is the writer, director and star of his own 3-hour film. This marks his acting debut, though he already has a steady fan following among his supporters for his rock concerts known as “ru-ba-ru” nights. His latest album – Love Charger, which released last May – has sold three million copies across India.

“I wanted to reach out to the youth of the nation. The best way of doing that was starring in a film about myself and my teachings and something that the entire family can watch together. So that parents can now proudly tell their children, ‘go and become something’,” he told Indian Express.

Co-director Jeetu Arora Insaan admitted that the film has “basically no storyline or plot” - it shows Ram Rahim fighting “against the evils of society”.

“It is basically the guruji’s teachings and the film outlines seven of his teachings: blood donation; preventing child labour; abolishing drugs from society; stopping prostitution; rehabilitation of widows; and fighting corruption,” Arora told Indian Express.

While the film was scheduled for a January 16 release, the delay in certification means it will probably release next Friday.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Shiromani Akali Dal held a protest in Delhi and demanded a ban on the film to “keep peace” in the country.

A fresh controversy was sparked off when Leela Samson, the chief of the Censor Board, resigned over the approval given to the film. She claimed that the board had objected to the Dera head's alleged portrayal of himself as god in the film, but an appellate tribunal had cleared the film.

According to Hindustan Times, Samson accused the information and broadcasting ministry of stifling her functioning by meddling in "every new film being released".

"There was total interference on every film, big and small. A lot of pressure was put on the film PK through various fundamentalist organisations and through panel members of the board to cut scenes," Samson told the Hindustan Times.

The government, however, denied it interfered in the functioning of the Censor Board.

Minister of state in the information and broadcasting ministry Rajyavardhan Rathore said the ministry has always "kept a hands away distance" from the Censor Board decisions.

- Karan Singh

To Learn More:

Ram Rahim postpones ‘Messenger of God’ premiere as protests escalate (by Debesh Banerjee, Indian Express)

MSG should be no cause for concern: Dera Sacha Sauda chief (PTI)

Leela Samson alleges meddling in every film; govt denies charge (by Zia Haq, Hindustan Times)

After Leela Samson, CBFC member Ira Bhaskar likely to quit (PTI)


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