A 2015 documentary produced by Sweet Briar College graduate Harpreet Bedi ’93 will see its world premiere at UNAFF 2016, the 19th United Nations Association Film Festival, Oct. 20-30. “Under the Turban” was chosen from among more than 700 submissions for the international documentary film festival at Stanford University. This year’s theme is “Compass for a Better World.”
“Under the Turban” tells the story of a young, modern Sikh family who travels the globe, meeting with diverse communities of Sikhs to explore their roots and identity in Sikhism, the world’s fifth-largest religion.
“The film came about when my daughter Zara, who was then eight or nine years old, asked me what it meant to be Sikh,” Bedi explains. “I had no idea how to answer her.”
There are more than 25 million Sikhs all over the world, and their experiences vary greatly based on where they live, says Bedi.
“The film started as a way for us to explore as a family what this facet of our identity means to us, as well as to others in the Sikh diaspora. It’s part slice of many different lives, part academic exploration.”
For four years, Bedi and her team — husband and director Satinder Garcha and co-directors Mike Rogers and Megan Shea — researched the historical foundations of Sikhism and met with Sikh communities around the world, capturing their lives and asking them what Sikhism meant to them.
“I wanted people to have a better understanding of how diverse Sikhism is,” she adds. “The film shows you maharajahs, Italian cheese makers, scholars… Modern Sikh communities can be found all over the world.”
Sikhism is one of the world’s youngest religions, coming about in the late 15th century, and Bedi says it’s often misunderstood.
“For one thing, I can’t stand it that, when people see a turban, they immediately associate it with terrorism. We needed to set the record straight. Sikhism is not a sycophantic or violent religion at all, but a set of principles on living. It demands that you are honest and principled, and it emphasizes loyalty and selfless service for the good of others.”
There’s another element Bedi appreciates about Sikhism: It stresses gender equality.
“You never see a shrinking Sikh woman,” she jokes. “As a mother to four children, three of whom are daughters, I wanted my children to see this, and I want everyone who sees the film to realize this, as well.”
When she’s not making films, Bedi is the general manager of hôtel vagabond, a luxury boutique hotel that has won many accolades since it opened in January. She is one of just a few female hoteliers in Singapore.
Bedi graduated from Sweet Briar College magna cum laude in 1993, with majors in economics and international affairs. Among many other things, she was a point guard for the varsity basketball team and received the Presidential Medal her senior year.
After graduation, Bedi obtained a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, followed by a 10-year career as in-house counsel for Cisco Systems Inc. In San Jose, Calif., she covered the North American and European markets and was later based in Singapore as lead counsel for Asia-Pacific Procurement and Marketing. Bedi eventually co-founded Elevation Developments, a property and hotel company, while earning a master’s in medical law from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She then founded a nonprofit interdisciplinary organization for bio-ethics legal research in Singapore, which she runs to this day.