Actor pals have come long way with VISAFF

Published: October 23, 2013
visaff

DJ Parmar and Patricia Isaac are two of the organizers for the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival taking place in Vancouver, BC starting Thursday, October 24, 2013. Jason Payne/ PNG

GLEN SCHAEFER
THE PROVINCE

The two actors who started the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival in 2010 were living the idea behind the festival long before that.

“I’ve played Judys and Monicas and all these other types, which is awesome,” says Patricia Isaac, who met and befriended fellow actor Agam Darshi years ago on Isaac’s first job, an episode of the now-gone paranormal series The Dead Zone.

The pair took similar career paths, sometimes playing south Asian characters, sometimes not, but never playing characters where ethnicity was the only point.

“That’s what we want to reinforce with the festival,” says Isaac, whose roles have since included last year’s season-long run as a Newfoundland cop on CBC’s Republic of Doyle, and a role opposite actor Josh Lucas and Kat Dennings on the B.C.-filmed small-town drama Daydream Nation. “It doesn’t have to be a film about Indian weddings and race, period.”

Isaac and Darshi got together to launch VISAFF in 2010.

“The point of it was to bridge the gap between south Asian talent and mainstream audiences,” Isaac says. “We’ve wanted to introduce a newer idea of what Indian or south Asian talent is.”

Their idea was to bring attention to lesser-known south Asian filmmakers — in North American and abroad — who were similarly out of the box.

Their first year was a one-day festival at the 170-seat Vancity Theatre.

“We ended up putting it up out of our own pockets because nobody wanted to sponsor us,” Isaac says. “It ended up being such an enormous success that the following year we had a ton of sponsors, which allowed us to have a three-day festival, bigger and better parties.”

They became victims of their own success, missing a year in 2012 because both actors were working away from Vancouver and unable to give their attention to the festival.

Isaac spent much of 2012 in Newfoundland working on Doyle, and has more recently been commuting between Vancouver and Los Angeles, while Darshi has been bouncing between Vancouver, Los Angeles and Toronto, most recently spending five months in Toronto as part of the ensemble on CTV’s undercover cop series Played.

Darshi wrapped that role in September, and touches down in Vancouver this week to shoot an episode of the U.S. Psycho prequel series Bates Motel.

Her Played role, as a cop who over the show’s 13 episodes gets entangled in a romantic liaison with a fellow cop, is written as south Asian — the character is named Khali Bhatt — but “something different and really smart,” Darshi says. “She’s a bit of a rebel, really addicted to the adrenaline of the job, and she’s a party girl.”

Darshi has played other south Asian roles — she was part of the ensemble grappling with the end of the world in the big-budget disaster film 2012.

“But I’ve turned down roles in the past that I felt fed the stereotypes more than I was comfortable playing,” Darshi says. “I’ve already seen a huge difference from when I started acting 10 years ago. When you see people like Mindy Kaling with her own show, that’s something we need to embrace more of and celebrate more of.”

This year, VISAFF moves to the 350-seat movie theatre at SFU Woodward’s, as Darshi and Isaac have handed over the organizational reins to actor-model Mesha Toor.

As well, Isaac’s friend, producer and Vancouver Film School grad DJ Parmar, joined the festival board three years ago.

“It’s moslty North American filmmakers (on the VISAFF schedule), but there are some filmmakers out of the U.K. and India who have been making interesting films as well,” Parmar says. “We really want a community to come together and talk about films and filmmaking.”

Parmar is another film type who hasn’t allowed himself to be kept in a box, going in less than 10 years from producing and directing short films, to his current globe-hopping role as a partner in a company that licenses U.S. movie titles for production in India. He’s adapting five titles including Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables, for production in India, while also producing original English-language features in Canada.

India has long been notorious for unauthorized knock-offs of American hits, but the big studios are fighting back with lawsuits in India.

Meanwhile, Isaac and Parmar recently worked together on a short film — her as writer-producer and him as director — called Shamed, about a south Asian woman (Battlestar Galactica’s Rekha Sharma) who is shunned after being the victim of a sexual assault.

“It doesn’t talk about the assault, it’s what’s behind it,” Isaac says of the film. “South Asian girls are shamed for their bodies essentially, the second they start to grow up. We treat it as an overseas issue but this is about here in North America.”

That film is currently in post-production — a likely title for a future VISAFF.

To win free VIP passes to the festival, enter our contest on Facebook.com/VancouverDesi

gschaefer@theprovince.com

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