Thriller-musical shot in Squamish touted as first Punjabi-language film in 3D

GLEN SCHAEFER
VANCOUVER DESI

Pehchaan 3D

Mandeepak Patrola and Steve Dhillon star in Pehchaan 3D, a B.C.-filmed thriller/musical set to open in India and Canada on the same day. Submitted photo

A team of Punjabi-Canadian filmmakers is betting their B.C.-filmed thriller-musical will be a hit with Punjabi audiences in India.

“Pehchaan 3D” is being released Feb. 1 on more than 30 screens in the Punjab. On the same date, the film opens on three Canadian screens — Surrey’s Empire Guildford and at theatres in Calgary and Mississauga.

“I took the leap,” says director and co-writer Manny Parmar, a Simon Fraser University film grad who took time away from his day job in March and April of 2011 to direct the film in Vancouver and Squamish. “The money came from myself and my Dad. I could have bought a house or made a film.”

Parmar grew up in small-town Houston and later Surrey, watching U.S. and Bollywood films.

“In the 1970s . . . that’s when the thriller-based [Bollywood] films came out,” he says. “You look at ’70s Indian films, they’re a lot more narrative-based with a lot more reveals and a lot more engagement.

“We wanted to truly make a film that we’d want to go see, based on our upbringing.”

As an adult he made shorts and documentaries before conceiving the feature story of a Canadian med student (Edmonton actor Steve Dhillon) who has to take on a new identity after witnessing a gangland hit. The film’s Punjabi title means identity.

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The movie, in Punjabi with English subtitles, follows friends Jagjot and Mani (Dhillon and Vancouver multicultural TV host Jaspal Randhawa) who stumble on a gangland murder after a night of clubbing. Jagjot goes to the police against his friend’s advice.

When Jagjot is targeted in a botched mob hit, the police convince him to assume a new identity in a small town as they put out word that he’s been killed. Jagjot is further conflicted when he falls for a girl in the small town (Mandeepak Patrola).

The melodramatic story plays out amid dance numbers and montages set to music, in the style of Bollywood film. Parmar and producer Gurpreet Sohi tapped several Punjabi artists in Canada and Britain, including RDB, the Bilz and Kashif, Panjabi Hit Squad and Vancouver’s Ranj Singh for the movie soundtrack.

The cast — cops, gangsters and those in between — was filled out with actors from Surrey’s Gurdip Arts Academy. The school’s artistic director Gurdip Bhullar helped Parmar with his script.

“We wanted a balance . . . a Canadian, westernized film that would still appeal to a Punjabi audience,” Parmar says, adding that he hoped the 3D vistas of small-town Squamish would be a draw for the Punjabi market.

The film is being marketed as the first Punjabi-language 3D film.

“That’s why I wasn’t worried about a star cast,” Parmar says. “I wanted to make a Punjabi film that represents the way I grew up. I speak Punjabi at home. My whole youngerupbringing has all been small-town — skating on the duck pond, playing hockey, being in the woods.”

The film premiered with two screenings at last November’s inaugural South Asian Film Festival Canada, alongside offerings from India, Pakistan and a half-dozen other south Asian countries.

“I remember the day of the festival just sitting at the entrance,” Parmar recalls, “That’s when you have butterflies. Suddenly, this big group of people show up who I don’t recognize at all. They aren’t my family. They aren’t friends of mine. That’s when I felt satisfied.”

Punjabi distributor Batra Showbiz is handling the film’s Indian release. Parmar says he purposely made a film without vulgarity, in the Indian style, but was surprised when Indian censors insisted he cut one scene — when the movie’s Sikh protagonist is shown having his beard and hair cut off to disguise his identity.

“They made the point that a Sikh should not voluntarily cut his hair. That’s where the cultural clash is.”

Parmar re-edited the montage scene to have the character already clean-shaven. “The ideas still come across.”

If the film draws an audience in the Punjab, Parmar has another couple of scripts he’s working on.

 





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