In the early 1900s, a young man travels to Canada to earn money for his family back home. After joining a small group of fellow Punjabis working in a lumber mill, he faced difficult working conditions, harassment and discrimination.
This is the synopsis of a groundbreaking new movie “ਛੱਲਾ ਮੁੜ ਕੇ ਆਇਆ” (Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya – Chhalla Never Returned) starring popular Punjabi singer and actor Amrinder Gil.
The film was shot largely in the golden rush-era ghost town of Barkerville in the interior of British Columbia, about 120 kilometers south of Prince George. It follows the fictional story of a Punjabi immigrant named Shala but is inspired by the true stories of Punjabi workers coming to Canada to work in lumber mills at the beginning of the 20th century.
The film is produced by Rhythm Boyz Entertainment, a Canadian entertainment company that also operates in India and the United States. It is one of the major players in the burgeoning Punjabi film industry, catering to the Punjabi speakers of India, Pakistan and diaspora communities across the globe.
With a budget of over $1.5 million, the film is one of the most expensive Punjabi films to date and stars two of the biggest names in the Punjabi entertainment industry, Amrinder Gill and Sarjun Mehta. It employed a crew of nearly 200 people in British Columbia and tells the unknown history of the province’s first Sikh immigrants.
‘Ancient history comes alive’
Satwinder Pines, director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at Fraser Valley University, says her first reaction to watching the movie’s trailer was pure joy.
“This is ancient history that comes alive,” she said. “History is in the classroom. History is in our books. History is in our homes, and now history is in the theater.”
Bynes, whose field of research includes immigration and racism, says she is pleased to see the filmmakers have done their research in order to tell the story.
Bynes says films like this have the potential to inspire younger generations to learn their history in a way that books or schools cannot and should be seen as an “opportunity” for discussion and learning.
“We need our communities to understand that we have been here for over 100 years and that 100 years have been filled with experiences – good, bad, indifferent and ugly.”
The film also touches on the stories of other immigrant communities.
Sydney Eberwin, the Vancouver-based actress who stars Jill in the title role, says her character is based on an Italian immigrant working as a maid trying to earn money to support her family back home.
Speaking of the similarities between her and Jill’s characters, Eberwin says that their first interaction in the film perfectly reflects the similarities between British Columbia’s immigrant communities, and through her character, the film can briefly touch on the experience of Italian immigrants in British Columbia.
“Io sono come te” in Italian. ‘ said Eberwin.
Increasing demand for various entertainments
The film made $665,000 in its opening weekend of July 29, according to film industry publication Deadline.
It marks the directorial debut of Amrinder Gill, who also plays the film’s protagonist.
Jill started his career as a Punjabi singer in 1999 with doordarshan kendrathe public broadcaster in India, has produced and starred in 22 films since 2009.
his song Mira Dewanaban He topped the Asian Music Chart in 2014. He won the title of Best Actor for his film of 2018 I complainand his movie 2019, Chal Mira Pot, It became the highest-grossing Punjabi film abroad.
The film is also beginning to emerge as the first Punjabi language film to be shown in commercial theaters in Vancouver, as well as traditional markets such as Surrey and Richmond.
While storylines about diverse characters were previously seen as a niche, Bains says people realize that these stories can be told in an entertaining and commercially successful way.
“There is a rich and powerful history to be told and it has to be told in a way that is really accessible to our communities. It can also be profitable,” Baines said.
Eberwein says the warm welcome to this film shows that there is a demand for diverse films that depict a myriad of viewpoints.
“This film sets the stage for the scale of production that can be made here for a Punjabi film.”