PIXAR’S HINDU SHORT
BY AARTI AND MAYURESH VISSWANATHAN
SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM, ONE OF PIXAR’S newest short films, is about a young Hindu boy named Sanjay who is conflicted between the enticing world of superhero action figures and his Hindu heritage.
Sanjay’s struggle is a perfect depiction of the situation most Hindu Americans experience. As children growing up in a world where Hinduism is often misrepresented, they are generally faced with ridicule and become embarrassed to be identified as a Hindu outside of their family. As a result, they live a life of trying to fit in and thereby allow themselves to be constantly distracted by material objects. This is succinctly depicted by Sanjay’s constantly engaging in watching television and playing with his superhero figurines, even while his dad is performing the daily puja.
Sanjay shows obvious discontentment when his father insists that he sit beside him for worship. However, Sanjay’s vision allows him to discover that these two seemingly different worlds can be connected, allowing him to embrace his cultural roots while still engaging actively in the material world.
The director, Sanjay Patel, does an excellent job of depicting Hindu concepts and the significance of rituals in Hindu worship. For example, Sanjay’s dad rings the bell and lights the puja lamp before starting his puja. In Sanjay’s vision, he sees the lighting of the puja lamp as a means of calling upon the Gods so that they can help defeat the demon. Unfortunately, this part of the film could also be misleading, by giving the impression that demons can come in and out of puja lamps.
The Hindu concept of ahimsa, nonviolence, is depicted when the demon is finally defeated: instead of dying, he is purified by transforming into a divine spirit with his hands folded in anjali mudra, or namaste.
This animation connects with us on a personal level, as our introduction to Hindu Gods, especially to Lord Hanuman, was based on the idea that He is a superman. His physical strength, intellectual power and humility inspired and guided us throughout childhood. Even now, at the age of 16 and 14, we can still relate to Sanjay’s Super Team, since Hinduism was portrayed so poorly in our southern California school that we were sometimes embarrassed to identify as Hindu.
ALL PHOTOS DISNEY/PIXAR
Father and son: Sanjay and his father in a scene depicting their struggle
As we grew older and learned how to respond to questions about Hinduism based on understanding it, we became more comfortable embracing Hindu culture.
This short film beautifully represents the conflict Hindu Americans face daily, and provides inspiration to embrace our cultural heritage in the midst of a possible identity crisis by showing that we can merge our religion with our interests and loves. Sanjay’s Super Team is a 2015 Oscar nominee for short animated films.
Super heroes: Sanjay is amazed as he actually enters his own world
AN INTERVIEW WITH SANJAY
PATEL by THEVERGE.COM
Once you decided to do the film, did it become important to you as an opportunity for teaching American kids about other cultures?
Yeah, that was a big deciding factor. I had a conversation with my dad about what the studio was presenting. He gave me the insight that it was part of my duty, that it would possibly create this bad karma to ignore what the studio was asking. And for me, the major deciding factor was being able to better reflect a family that was closer to my own, and speak to that audience of immigrant kids.
What was your understanding of your father’s religion when you were that age?
Growing up, there was just no dialogue between me and my father. I had this fear of approaching him with questions about why we were doing what we were doing. And to be honest, I had no interest. I just wanted [the daily worship].
So it was just ritual without meaning for you?
Totally! We wash the dishes, I take a shower, we vacuum, then we ring the bell and pick flowers and anoint the Deities. If you grow up like that, you can’t describe how mundane it feels. But all my father was trying to do was get me to center myself and be still. It was a beautiful thing, he just never articulated it, never explained why it was important.