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Ocean of Pearls
Director: Sarab S. Neelam; Producers: Sarab & Jaspal Kaur Neelam

AMRIT SINGH (a Sikh man with turban and beard) and his girlfriend SMITA come from deeply spiritual and traditional Sikh families of Toronto. Amrit is offered a prestigious job in Detroit at a state-of-the-art transplant center which is too good to pass up. Unfortunately he did not ask his girlfriend or family before accepting the offer. A series of personal and professional events lead Amrit to question his tradition. When he sees his dream of becoming Chief of transplant surgery dwindle because of his turban, Amrit makes a radical decision to cut his hair.

In Detroit Amrit’s focus is on research and getting the transplant center up and running. He works closely with Hospital Administrator SUSAN CLARK who shows interest in him. The more he chases his goal, the more he compromises his ideals under the guidance of pragmatic Chief of Staff WILLIAM BALLARD. MARY STEWART is a perfect transplant candidate but is denied because she has used up her Lifetime Medical Benefits. Meanwhile he hides cutting of his hair from his girlfriend who visits him in Detroit and his family in Toronto. Ultimately the compromises lead to a death of another patient. The weight of Amrit’s double life comes to a head at the family run Sikh camp. In a heated debate over the value of Sikh tradition, Amrit pulls off his turban revealing he has cut his hair in front of his father’s youth group, shocking everyone present. This leads to an explosive confrontation between Amrit and his father (RAVINDER) where Ravinder is forced to tell Amrit of the horrors he witnessed during the Partition of India and Pakistan. He informs Amrit he’s free to make his own choices but never dare say that Sikh values don’t work in the real world. Before he leaves Smita tells him that she is taking a fellowship in India.

In Detroit, Amrit is forced to make a decision when Mary Stewart goes into a coma. He can save her against the wishes of Dr. Ballard or save his chances of becoming Chief of transplant center where he can save thousands of lives.  Amrit chooses to sacrifice his career and performs a transplant, which is successful. His first step toward inner peace.

Director’s Bio:
Sarab Singh 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.

2008; USA; Running Time: 94 minutes

Ocean of Pearls

Ocean of Pearls

Ocean of Pearls

Ocean of Pearls

Director: Sarab S. Neelam
Director: Sarab S. Neelam


  • Winner Best Feature Film – DetroitWindsor International Film Festival 2008
  • Winner Grand Jury Prize & Audience Choice Award – Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2008
  • Winner Audience Choice Award – Toronto ReelWorld Film Festival 2008

Cast & Crew

Actor: Character
Omid Abtahi: Amrit Singh
Heather McComb: Susan Clark
Ron Canada: Dr. William Ballard
Navi Rawat: Smita Sethi
Ajay Mehta: Ravinder Singh
Todd Babcock: Ryan Bristol
Dennis Haskins: Dr. Shultz
KT Thangavelu: Amrit's mother
Rena Owen: Anna
Brenda Strong: Mary Stewart

Casting Director: Emily Schweber
Cinematographer: Lon Stratton
Editor: Jason Stewart
Music Composer: Pinar Toprak
Additional Compositions: Karsh Kale
Vocalist: Snatam Kaur Khalsa
Producers: Sarab & Jaspal Kaur Neelam
Executive Producers: Jeff Dowd & Jim Burstein
Story by: Sarab S. Neelam & V. Prasad
Screenwriter: V. Prasad
Director: Sarab S Neelam