Sikh Art & Film Foundation


Dr. Sarab S. Neelam - Director Ocean of Pearls

Sarab S. Neelam is the Director of the Annual Sikh Film Festival 2008’s Feature Presentation – Ocean of Pearls.

Sarab Neelam has always had a vivid imagination thanks in part to his father who writes poetry and an uncle, who was a painter. For the first 10 years of his life he lived in India where he saw diversity of color, beauty and poverty. India is also the place where he fell in love with cinema which transported him to a whole new place; he was in awe of what he saw and felt.

With his family, he moved to Canada at 10 years of age. He enjoyed the many choices that Canada offered but also felt the challenges of being different. He had long hair and looked like a girl to most people. In high school he started wearing a turban without realizing its religious and historical significance. He was close to his grandmother who suffered a lot during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. She would tell him stories of Sikh history filled with bravery and sacrifices. As he settled into his new life in Toronto, he started playing around with super 8 camera in high school making home movies.

With the encouragement of his parents he became a medical doctor.  \The inequities of the health care system were obvious when he started practicing.  \It felt more like a business than medicine at times.  \But he also knew that the best in the world of medicine existed in America, with more opportunities than any other country. Despite being in the medical profession, he never lost his childhood desire to make movies.

Returning to his passion, he started taking classes in films. He desperately wanted to see Sikhs on screen.  He made a documentary of his faith to educate others about Sikhism so that kids wouldn’t get teased as he was while growing up.

Unfortunately political turmoil in India, the Middle East and 9/11 in America made the Sikhs feel as outcasts and terrorists. There were numerous episodes of hate crimes which continue to this day.  Sikhs felt humiliated on screen, airports, jobs, schools and public places. So what started as a dream to make movies also became a desperate need and desire to be recognized as a human being with dignity.

His first film Ocean of Pearls is a labor of love of over 10 years. He felt it is needed to break down barriers just as great African Americans did for their community. Ocean of Pearls is the story of a young Sikh doctor struggling with the inequities of the American Health System and ultimately his own identity.  It speaks to the universal challenge of how so many people (not just Sikhs) have to balance romance, family, ethics and spirituality in today’s complex world. He hopes it will be an inspiration to all.

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Dr. Sarab S. Neelam