Acclaimed Indian screenwriter Shailender Vyas jumps into Canadian culture

Published: March 22, 2014

Ritika Anand (R) and Vancouver actress Starlise Waschuk seen in a still from Three Colours + A Canvas, which is releasing in Vancouver Tuesday March 25. Submitted photo.

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

When acclaimed Bollywood filmmaker Shailender Vyas sits down to write a Hindi script he closes his eyes, turns on some music and the words just come to him.

But when it came to writing his first Canadian feature-length film, Three Colours + A Canvas, which premiers in Vancouver on Tuesday, it wasn’t so easy.

“This time when I closed my eyes I saw nothing — just black,” Vyas told Vancouver Desi.

Born and raised in India, Vyas’ work has been screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Dubai International Film Festival. He moved to Canada four years ago and now with his wife, Ritika Anand, owns Calgary-based Vision 10 Productions Inc.

When he finally sat down to work on Three Colours + A Canvas, which centres around four friends battling drug addiction in Calgary, culture shock provided “biggest challenge” to writing the script.

“If I talk to my friend in India, the humour would be so different, the human values are so different, everything is so different,” he explained. “To frame a scene, to frame a relationship between characters, that part is more challenging more than language.”

Still accustomed India’s idiosyncrasies, Vyas needed to familiarize himself with his new Canadian surroundings.

“You can tell a drug addiction story in India, you can tell a drug addiction story in Canada,” said Anand, also a producer and actress in the film. “But how you write it . . . will be very different. For him to write a scene, you know, where two friends are talking — how would two friends talk here?”

So the pair decided to dedicate a year for research.

Vyas dove right in. He picked up a job at a friend’s convenience store in downtown Calgary where he spent the year listening to stories and making friends with whoever filtered through the store.

“It was very important for me to go out and break the shell and start to meet people,” he said. “Now I have friends from every race, every colour, every religion and I’m learning everyday.

“My perspective has changed . . . my sense of thinking was more Indian — now I think more like a Canadian.”

The storyline around addiction was also inspired by the couple’s experience as new immigrants.

“This is the land of opportunities, a land that everybody can find something to do, (so) why is there still homelessness and poverty in certain areas and addiction issues?” Anand asked. “Why do people resort to things like that when there’s so much to offer in this country, especially coming from India.”

But in their research, they found “it’s not very different from anywhere else in the world.

“A person who wants to go down that path . . . will,” Anand said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re living here, or in India, or in Timbuktu.”

Both Vyas and Anand, now settled in Calgary, plan to continue making Canadian films and may even have their sights set on Vancouver for their next venture.

Ritika Anand (R) and Vancouver actress Starlise Waschuk seen in a still from Three Colours + A Canvas, which is releasing in Vancouver Tuesday March 25. Submitted photo.

“Making films in this part of the world has more of a global approach,” Anand said. “Making them in English, mastering that art — no matter how hard it would be — would open up our audiences across the globe to tell important (stories).”

Vision 10 Productions also partnered with The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C. for the film’s Vancouver release, with 10 per cent of local proceeds going towards the organization. Three Colours + A Canvas premiers Tuesday at the Pacific Cinematheque at 6:45 p.m., with additional screenings running March 28 to 30 at 2 p.m.

lcahute@vancouverdesi.com
twitter.com/larissacahute

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