CAPSULE: This is a rarity. UNDER THE TURBAN is a documentary about a religion and the film is purely informational and is non-political. (Well, mostly anyway.) Nor does it try to win converts. Instead, it is a primer on what Sikhism is. It compares and contrasts Sikhism to other religions. The film takes a Sikh family and us on a tour of Sikh communities in several countries. We meet people from the communities, see how they live, and see how their faith influences them. Satinder Garcha, Mike Rogers, and Meghan Shea direct the film. The film implicitly is an attempt to counter race hatred from people who do not even know who Sikhs are, but only know they look different. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Sikhism is said to be the fifth largest religion in the world. [Most Internet sources I saw listed it as the ninth largest.] Yet in spite of the size of the religion and fact that Sikhs give themselves a very characteristic look few Americans seem to recognize a Sikh when they see one. Early in the film about a dozen people on the street are asked to identify the religion of a man in a photograph. People of several different cultures guess wrong. Finally a man in a Jewish yarmulke identifies the man in the picture as "some kind of Sikh." That was acceptable, though there may be even different kinds of Sikh. One Sikh says that there is only one kind of Sikh but then says that he is a Khalsa, which seems to mean he is from a warrior brotherhood of Sikhs calling back to a military tradition. One Sikh interviewed says that Sikhism is special since it is the only religion whose adherents do not try to win converts. [I don't know how much consideration he has given to Judaism, which also has a policy not seek conversions.]
A Sikh does several things to make sure that he is recognizable as a Sikh. Adult males wear a turban. Most wear a big moustache and beard. Not as obvious but each adult male carries five items, each has a name that starts with "K". They are Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kanga (a wooden comb), Kaccha (cotton underwear), and Kirpan (a steel sword).
The inspiration for the journey that the film documents came when Zara Garch, a Sikh girl aged 9, begins asking questions about her religion. Her parents decide to show her rather than just tell her. They build a monumental tour going to countries that have major Sikh communities. In each they ask the local Sikhs what being a Sikh means to them and more basically what is a Sikh. They visit Italy, India, Great Britain, Argentina, Canada, and the United States.
There is some discussion of the spiritual underpinnings of the religion, but there is insufficient time in a film this short to really do them justice. The filmmakers also look at phenomena like a Sikh motorcycle club.
The most important mission of the film is to educate the public on what Sikhs are and spread the word to not confuse them with terrorists. Sadly, this may not be the best way to educate the American public who Sikhs are, and perhaps more importantly who they are not. But the film is at least a good introduction. I would rate UNDER THE TURBAN a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
UNDER THE TURBAN is on DVD and is available on streaming.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5700402/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/under_the_turban_2017
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper