Amar Singh Kaleka ~ Interviewed by Harijot

"Any response in anger is going to harm our chance at peace"....

Amar Singh Kaleka, it is an honor to speak with you, I've been looking forward to it.

Vice versa, Harijot Singh. I love the work you guys do at SikhNet, and all the Sikhi you bring out of the Southwest of America. It's great reading your stuff, and awesome meeting you, Harijot.

You are a very dynamic and talented person. In case our readers don't know, among other things, you're a filmmaker. Can you tell us some of your background and achievements in film?

As an award-winning filmmaker and company, we've been blessed and lucky to see many projects come to fruition. From TV Commercial campaigns for people like Mcdonald's, Capital One, Ugg, and other top brands, to feature narrative and feature documentary film projects. As an independent and an outsider to Hollywood, though I've done my time behind agency desks, I've had to raise my own funds for nearly every project that wasn't a contract. In this vein, and to combat international piracy, we've come up with a new system of pre-selling DVDs, online views, and other cool incentives which match the film topic in order to raise our production capital. This means we are one of the only film companies in the world who make the material "for the people, by the people".



That's quite a distinction! 

Indeed, and in addition, when we do this, even if we take a trip with those funders, we find ourselves doing some sort of diplomatic or peace goal service. For example, when we go to India with our Yoga documentary (tentatively entitled "Yoga 4 Change") we service an orphanage there, bringing gifts, and teaching the students. At times, we help them fundraise and build their own media marketing for longevity and prosperity.

Amazing work! We are all proud to have such talent in our community like yourself.

Thank you Harijot. I know we have a very tight-knit community. And, to be honest, I think most have always had my back on film-making. Obviously, as you might know, we have a harder upbringing whereby many parents dissuade the arts as a career. Rather, our families, most often, want to see us earn a MD or Engineering degree so we can have a stable and lucrative life. However, the arts can lead to a very interesting, knowledge filled, and prosperous life, as well. America is one of the few places this can happen. It's a dream come true to be raised in hard economic conditions, to rise as a storyteller, and become a master craftsman in my trades over the past decade. In a long game like entertainment, these are only the first steps.

This is a more sensitive subject that I had spoken with you about dearlier. I wanted to ask this because I think sangat will gain from and appreciate what you have to say: The tragedy at Oak Creek. After your father was killed by a Neo-Nazi, you and your brother had a conversation. Can you tell us about that conversation?

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Sure. The tragedy is always a tough one to talk about. However, my brother and I, along with our Sangat have been handling free speaking engagements for over five years now on the topics of racism, xenophobia, and overall, peace and compassion along with the introduction to Sikhism. It seems the whole Singh nation, from Punjab outwards, has been doing quite a bit of public relations work communicating the Sikh principles and the history of our people after this tragedy. We would like to formally thank each and every one for their hard work and diligence on the subject. We're hopeful in chardi kala that the upbringings of our children and grandchildren will receive the benefit from around the world.

Great sentiment. Please continue. 

In terms of that conversation you're asking about, after the tragedy, I was frustrated with the Neo-Nazi and White Supremacy movement which I saw growing from my long-term stays in Georgia and California. In the Midwest, we noticed the rise of these extremist thoughts ever since 9/11 2001. There were constant rumors that the Midwest was being overrun by these immigrant "sheiks" (many never knew what to call anyone before now). I was a teacher back then. [My brother] Pardeep was a police officer. I was in the classroom with my ninth and tenth graders when the towers came tumbling down. The post 9/11 American landscape continued to be tension filled for more than a decade. I moved to Georgia for 7 years and then Los Angeles for 7. Fast forward to 2012. Reading the larger dynamics and politics at play with what happened underneath, I was absolutely angry at the SE Wisconsin community for allowing these type of murderers to rise amongst our ranks in the Midwest.

I asked my brother, Pardeep, whether or not we're supposed to gear up the Punjabi faithful, including some of the gang members we knew from both sides of the Latino and Black gangs to go after these Neo-Nazi "fools"? He said, "What would we do?"

And I said, "I don't know - stop them with physical or spiritual force, whatever it takes?".

He then told me, and I don't remember exactly how he phrased it, but he said something like, "Any response in anger is going to harm our chance at peace". So there I was, fuming inside, now understanding, for the first time, what America thought of us, and here he is telling me to calm down.

Wow, I can't imagine what it was like for you. How did you respond? 

Being the younger brother, I listened to him, and in the days following, I used the calm side of my personality to engage the public. This was absolutely the wiser approach because it gave us ample time to forgive, teach, and elevate the solutions to the top. Afterwards, we went on to rally and lobby for the national gun responsibility cause, the hate crime bill, and an overall push for peace in the streets. I became one of the founding members of the National Compassion Fund which does work on every major national tragedy. We've put on concerts with Imagine Dragons, Fun, and others to raise funds. We've also put on a comedy show with Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow to help the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. After 2012, along with a group of young Sikh Temple council members, we initiated the Serve 2 Unite non-profit, which Pardeep runs to this day [Click here to watch Pardeep being interviewed on 'The View' with his friend and collaborator Arno Micheal a former white supremist]. We also helped on many causes since then, including the Be Proud movement, the National Sikh Campaign, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and quite a few others.


These are significant achievements bringing awareness of Sikhs as well as generally helping to make the world a better place . I know you have done more as well...

Yes, in 2014, I ran for Congress against Paul Ryan. He's the representative of this region and he was running for Vice President with Mitt Romney (when this strange shooting took place by a former Army sergeant who was slighted his veteran's benefits though he needed the mental health incentive the most). After studying the problems of the economy, the disparity of wealth, and realizing that the secret society and white supremacy strongholds were in the Christian churches, I saw, for the first time, how the politics play a giant role in our day to day lives. They, in essence, create a matrix of reality for which we live in. We can either choose to plug into this matrix, or sidestep it. Either way, it goes, we are most definitely impacted by every political decision in Washington and in our state and local capitals.

This is why I took up the challenge, though I was beaten quite handedly being the first person of diversity or color to ever run in this district. Nevertheless, I now see many SE Asian candidates taking up the gauntlet and succeeding at spreading the truth and solutions necessary to make our nation greater than it's ever been. Since then, we've elected our first Mayor in New Jersey, Ravi Singh Bhalla (D). I also continue helping new politicians gain an understanding of how to play the game out of the Midwest. We are helping a great congressional race in Michigan with Suneel Gupta.

Not everyone would have responded to such a painful life event in such a proactive way as you have. God bless you. What project are you working on now?

Only days after the tragedy, Dr. Jagmeet Soin, who's a long time patriarch of the Sikh family in America, approached me to make a feature-length documentary film on Guru Gobind Singh Ji's life and times. Instead, I was still under obligation to finish Sirius. And, immediately following, we started making the Peacemakers film, another documentary on what happened in Wisconsin. Also, I was traveling quite a bit to make it to all the speaking engagements and media interviews. Then, of course, there was the congressional campaign.

Now, five years later, Dr. Soin called me again. He gave me a passionate pitch on the phone and over lunch. He had me on the seventh word. In short, this film has never been made of our beloved Guru. There are a few shorter documentary versions done for free by amateurs. However, there is no definitive documentary which we can play for the newer generations of Sikhs. There are many nooks and crannies to Guru Gobind Singh Rai's journey as the son of Guru Teg Bahadur. His story is one of the largest exodus tales of freeing enslaved men and women from the deeply ingrained caste system of India. It's also a great story of military and spiritual might to defeat such a great adversary like Aurangzeb in those times.

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Right now, we are asking the Singh nation, and our Sikh parvaar, to unite and support this film with "vand chakna". This is, obviously, one of the 3 major pillars of Sikhism, next to kirat karo and naam japo. It only makes sense we all come together to make a film about our beloved Guru. He was one of the only few people who could unite such a wide diversity of Indians under one umbrella - Sikh. Here's the website to help: http://www.neverendinglight.com.

One big documentary you were behind is 'Sirius': A very interesting look at the evidence and possibility of alien life (which is now available on YouTube). You were able to raise so much attention and donations for a documentary which is essentially about aliens as compared to your current project about the Guru. Why do you think this is?

I think it has to do with capitalism and selfishness. I helped innovate this way of filmmaking: by the people for the people.

It's no longer on Netflix. We just ended that contract several months back. However, the film, Sirius, was seen over 5 million times all over the world and was one of the most pirated films of 2013, beating out films like Transformers

Wow!

Yes, Sirius was translated into 22 languages and screened at lectures, universities, and in private circles for the past four years. We used the exact same model of fundraising that we're using with the Guru Gobind Singh Ji documentary. At that time, in early 2012, we raised over $500k in less than eight weeks with this approach. In fact, we set the new record of crowdfunding in the documentary genre. This is a unique space to be because it's considered journalism and not entertainment media.

I feel the Sikh parvaar and the Singh nation can outraise this earlier project, if, and only if, we work together to communicate this over the web. This is something I noticed the ET faithful were very good at. They were proud of the project because it tackled the major issues of transparency, corruption, and the potential we've been lied to about Universal visitors which we in India call "avatars". They would jump into groups and post the videos everywhere online. They also sent it to those funders who had the ability to act on it. We secured several five-figure donations quickly. In addition, just like with this one, we gave out a few investor positions whereby those investors earned a percentage return of the film gross.

I think we've done a better job of presenting this film - the Guru Gobind Singh Ji documentary on the website. There, people can find the proposal and the union budget. We, in order to secure wider and farther reaching distribution including those many languages, must abide by our industry standards. This also keeps the quality of the project at the highest level.

I for one am going to watch your films. Again, it is great to meet you, a real asset to the community. You're a very talented man with so much wisdom to offer.

I can only leave you with a quote from Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It's one of my favorite of all times. It's something which we must say in today's day and age whereby we're still fighting xenophobia, and waging peace in the name of the ONE. Whether we say, Waheguru (the Wow Teacher), or someone says Rabh, Yahweh, Allah, or Father, or Jesus, we're all pointing our attention to a higher Being. This higher sense should make us more compassionate and understanding of each other's plights. In order to lift ourselves from this self-made suffering, we must learn to collaborate rather than compete with each other in the larger game of life.

This quote says just that to me:

Chirian to mein baaz ladaun.
Gidran to mein sher banaun.
Sawa lakh se ek ladaun.
Tabe Gobind Singh Naam kahaun.

"Sparrows fight hawks,
Jackals are molded into Lions,
One can fight  125 thousand
when he speaks the name of Gobind Singh."

Waheguru ji ka khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh.

We certainly do hope that the word gets out there about your newest project and it serves as a unifying cause for the panth.

I wish the same, Veerji. Talk soon on the follow up.
Sat Sri Akal.

Sat Sri Akal

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