Sikh Representation in Media
Updated: Feb 18
With the announcement of Eastenders Panesar family. We have our first ever Sikh family in Eastenders. But this does give us food for thought. Are there any notable representations of Sikh culture on screen. We are mostly talking fictional characters on film and TV but how often is this seen or shown?
When it comes to popular British Asian films. Its no surprise Bend It Like Beckham is a classic example, in fact it was so popular its three main actors Parminder Nagra, Jonothan Rhys Myers, Kiera Knightly had actually become more popular across the pond in the US. It also stars CornerShop Show's Amit Chana (Malik's Brother Samad) This film tackles on the issue of being British Asian in Football (which is notably lacking) aswell the issues a Sikh/Asian girl faces with family commitment and lack of support in the sport. Parminder's character Jessminder "Jess" Bamra is a portrayed as having to follow her dreams to be a footballer despite the sexism and racism she faces along with keeping her training secret from her strict family.
Based on the real life struggles of Pardeep Nagra. Tiger is an American film starring Prem Singh, Mickey Rourke, Janel Parrish and Marshall Manesh centered on Canadian Sikh boxer Nagra who is denied the opportunity to become a professional boxer due to his strict adhering to Kesh. Kesh being the Sikh practice of not removing or shaving hair for the sake of purity (though grooming or trimming to maintain tidy and neatness is considered acceptable by some). In professional boxing, boxers are expected to maintain a clean shaved appearance and typically short hair, both of which a Sikh can not have under the maintenance of Kesh. It is rare for a boxing film to have a focus on religion, but this can be considered a Sikh counterpart to Will Smith's Ali. Ali highlighted Muhammad Ali's identity as an African American Muslim, Tiger does the same for Pardeep Nagra as an Asian Canadian Sikh.
Another film based off a real person's life. Boy with The Top Knot follows the memoirs of journalist Sathnam Sanghera. A Punjabi Sikh born and raised in Wolverhamton. He was the first in his family to attend University and build a different life in London. The film also covers how little Sanghera knew about his family and the struggles of his mother and father in their strict background. The film does feature a somewhat cliche of Sathnam being too worried to tell his family about his non-Sikh English girlfriend, however the film storyline regarding his parents arranged marriage and his father health was an interesting story about how attitudes and expectations have changed in the modern day. Starring the talented Sacha Dhawan (Davos in Ironfist, Karim in Bradford Riots, Akhtar in History Boys) as the lead. The film features Anjli Mohindra, Jaz Deol and many more as members of his family and friends.
Class in a short lived Doctor Who Spin Off. It is set around Coal Hill school and features a diverse cast of characters. Theme-wise Doctor Who is family friendly, its other spinoff Torchwood is more adult orientated, Sarah Janes Adventure is child friendly. Class is somewhere between Who and Torchwood in terms of age appropriate viewership. Among its diverse cast, the series featured British Egyptian actor Fady Elsayed as the Punjabi Football Jock Ram Singh. Despite his initial portrayal as an antisocial jock/bully to the main characters, his character does get fleshed out more in the following episode suffering from PTSD, survivors guilt, adjusting to his leg and despite not practicing Kesh, he does wear the Kara (a steel bangle) and even explains the symbolism behind it in Sikh culture. Despite the cancellation of the show. Ram Singh is one of our favourite fictional British Asian characters we have ever seen in Fiction.
Some Girls is a British sitcom centred around Viva Bennet (Adedayo Adelayo) an aspiring Psychology student. Among her best friends at school are Ditzy Blonde Amber Dean (Alice Felgate), Bad Tempered Holly Vavasour (Natasha Jonas) and finally Cynical Sarcastic Sikh Girl Saz Kaur (Mandeep Dhillon). Saz Kaur comes from a strict orthodox Sikh Indian family leaving her feeling very restricted by her repressive parents. Despite her geeky maths Enthusiastic demeanor, she is a feisty young lady with a lot of snarky words coming from her sharp tongue as a way to deal with her frustrations when dealing with difficult situations. She does have an Unfortunate tendency to realise how far or hurtful her cynical comments can be. Be deep down she is somewhat insecure and wishes to fit in, despite her tendencies to antagonise her friends she does care for them and like many young people her age she does worry about her looks and wanting to be popular. She has interesting take on nerdy Asian characters but with an interesting bite of not being a push over or timid type of Nerd.
What do you think of these characters? are there any films or TV shows that you think had portrayed the Sikh community well?