As a child of Hindu immigrants from India, animator Sanjay Patel had to learn early on how to navigate between two worlds: the culture of his classmates in 1980s San Bernardino, California and the Indian culture his parents tried to preserve in his home.
Patel brings that quintessentially American struggle to life in his 7-minute short for Disney-Pixar called Sanjay’s Super Team.
The company released a sneak preview on YouTube Thursday. Though the clip is only about 40 seconds long, it provides plenty of fodder for discussions about culture, identity and faith.
The story begins with a scene that Patel remembers vividly from childhood. Every morning, his dad performed puja (or worship) at a home altar. He would bathe a collection of murtis (statues that Hindus believe contain a divine essence of a deity) and expect his son to pray with him.
"As a kid, I accepted these practices and references, but didn't understand them, and was often frustrated by them. All I really wanted to do was watch cartoons," Patel wrote in a 2010 blog for The Huffington Post.
The fictional Sanjay is at first annoyed by his dad's devotional prayers. But soon, his imagination takes off and he encounters a fantastic trio of Hindu gods -- the blue god Vishnu, the warrior goddess Durga and the half-monkey Hanuman. The gods accompany Sanjay on a grand adventure and the little boy begins to get a glimpse of the cosmic beauty and brilliance of his dad's faith.
In his real life, it wasn't until he was much older that Patel began to rediscover Hinduism and embrace his Indian heritage. Growing up, the South Asians he saw on TV and in pop culture were often stereotypes and caricatures.
"If I could, I would go back to the 1980s and give my younger self this short," Patel told The Los Angeles Times in April. "I want to normalize and bring a young brown boy's story to the pop culture zeitgeist. To have a broad audience like Pixar's see this... it is a big deal. I'm so excited about that."
Sanjay's Super Team will be shown in theaters right before screenings of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, which premieres on November 25. Watch an interview with Patel below.
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