Rhythm for the Blues

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 11 July 2016

India has one of the highest rates of depression in the world and Indian New Zealanders are also deeply affected. Dr Sarkaw Mohammad and Rupinder Virk hope their innovative Bollywood-style music video will bring new awareness and understanding of depression to New Zealand's ethnic communities.

Resplendent in peacock blue and yellow, 20 or so young people prepare backstage for a high-stakes performance of Indian martial arts as part of the Vaisaki Mela Festival. Twirling and juggling what were once lethal weapons of war, the nerves and excitement are palpable.

The Auckland Gatka Martial Arts team, mostly aged under 25, steady themselves with pre-performance prayers in Punjabi. Connecting with cultural roots – in thise case the Sikh faith – is one way that ethnic communities keep strong, but what happens when it is not enough? The close-knit Auckland Sikh community has become acutely aware of depression affecting their community and was devastated after the recent suicide of one of their youth.

It is Vaisaki Mela  – also known as the Sikh New Year – and the 125th anniversary of Sikhs settling in New Zealand. But another big event is taking place at the Claudelands Arena in Hamilton – the launch of a music video called Zindagi (or Life!) which the creaters hope will help to combat depression in the Indian community.

The newly formed charitable trust IAMHE/HER sponsored and created the 'Zindagi' music video. One of the founders is Jay Randhawa, president of the Waikato Punjabi Cultural Club. "People in our community hide these problems, that's why we've made this video. Zindagi means 'life'. The song has been written by a local artist, it was filmed and produced here, everything was made in New Zealand."

It's close to our heart this project, because we want our community to talk about it - Jay Randhawa

Jay anticipates a large turnout for the festival - which is itself a perfect launching place for the music video.

"In our community anything to do with entertainment and food is the way to get the message across. If you listen to the song, it's very motivating."

Creatively conceived and produced by IMHE(R) charitable trust and filmed by SS Productions, the music video has already garnered over 509,438 hits on YouTube. Stars of the music video Rupinder Virk and Dr Sarkaw Mohammad are co-MCs at the festival. They're also the other two members of the IMHE(R) charitable trust.

Dr Sarkaw Mohammad is of Kurdish descent and originally from Pakistan. Formerly a paramedic in Otahuhu, she has lived in New Zealand for the last 18 years. Sarkaw was driven to create the music video as a response to the issue of depression, especially amongst Indian men living in New Zealand. In the video she plays the wife of the male lead Rupinder Virk, whose character is afflicted with this mental illness.

We have no Hindi or Punjabi word to describe 'depression' - so how do we recognise it? - Dr Sarkaw Mohammad

"Our main focus is to talk about issues that carry stigma. We want to touch the issues that no-one talks about. India has one of the highest rates of depression in the world and for men within the age of 15 to 29 the rates of suicide are very high. The reason I used a male [in the video] was to say it's okay to talk about it. So we thought why not put a community project together - using all the community leaders - to say it's okay if you have depression. We educated the entire creative team about depression in the making of this video, 50 of us in the cast and crew" says Dr Mohammad.

Rupinder Virk – former president of the Waikato Punjabi Cultural Club – is the star of the film. His role as a community leader motivated him to take a lead role as an Indian man struggling with depression.

"It's a burning issue in New Zealand, not just in India. this video is highlighting the issue that affects the community. The message we wanted to convey is about how you recover from it. And it can affect anyone, you, your parents, your kids."

Rupinder says it's about seeking solutions within the Indian community.

"What are the symptoms [of depression]? How do you provide support? It is harder for [Indian] men to tell anyone about it, to seek help. It's not just a female thing. You should raise your hand and seek help. For your sake and mine, lets fight through it. I've been involved in community projects for the last 15 years. I see it as my duty to take the lead and create the right message" - Rupinder Virk.

Zindagi stars Rupinder Virk and Dr. Sarkaw Mohammad

Zindagi stars Rupinder Virk and Dr. Sarkaw Mohammad Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle