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Posted at: Aug 2, 2015, 12:47 AM; last updated: Aug 1, 2015, 11:29 PM (IST)

‘Beeba Boys not based on Bindy Johal’s life’

ON RECORD
Nonika Singh talks to Deepa Mehta, acclaimed Indo-Canadian film director, on her soon-to-be-released action flick Beeba Boys
‘Beeba Boys not based on Bindy Johal’s life’

The storm her films whip up might cloud the deep intent of her works, but nothing can deflect Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s singular ability to chart her own course. The Oscar-nominated director famous for her Fire, Earth and Water trilogy, she never ceases to surprise. Just a teaser of her latest Randeep Hooda-starrer action flick Beeba Boys, which releases around October, is enough to fire the imagination. She shares her reasons for opting for a gangster film, working with Hooda and the dilemmas of invisible minorities. 

From literary adaptation to an action thriller, is Beeba Boys a different signature or continuation of the work that you do?

From domestic violence in Heaven on Earth to the literary adaptation of Midnight’s Children to an original screenplay for Beeba Boys, a gangster flick, that’s the way it goes. The stories may change but the basic theme and concerns do not. 

What attracted you to the life story of late Indo-Canadian criminal Bindy Johal? (Gunned down in a nightclub in 1998, Johal was a hero to many Indo-Canadians and a sociopath to others).

I’ve always been a fan of the gangster genre from Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Goodfellas,  Brian De Palma’s Scarface, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs to my personal favourite, Takeshita Kitano’s sublime Sonatine. It’s no wonder that the many stories emanating from Vancouver about the Indo-Canadian gangsters fascinated me. Being a Punjabi myself, I could relate to the scene at a cultural level. These were not gangsters in India; they were a hybrid, not unlike myself. Also I was intrigued about using a ‘female gaze’ for a male-dominated genre.

By the way, once and for all, Beeba Boys is not based on Bindy Johal’s life. You heard it from the horse’s mouth. It’s inspired by events, headlines, characters, but finally it’s an original script. And Randeep Hooda is not playing Bindy Johal… good to get that off my chest!

What was the trigger?

A news report I saw on CBC about the Indo-Canadian fanfare in the Greater Vancouver area. How tragic it was… the collateral damage being the bewildered families who had migrated to Canada primarily to give their children a chance at a better life.

The movie is being touted as your first action flick, but no Deepa Mehta film can be without a subtext. So what is the essence of the film?

I guess it’s about another aspect of invisible minorities in a White dominant society, the fallout that is very particular and peculiar, the search for identity, to be made ‘visible’. A line that Jeet (Randeep) says is: “In order to be seen, you got to commit to being seen.” And he means it literally — the super cool clothes the Gang wears to arouse abject fear when one comes across them. 

How do you see Beeba Boys — a clash of cultures, an insight into the world of immigrants or a fascinating story waiting to be told?

Beeba Boys is a dramatic film, not a documentary. So, first and foremost, it’s a unique story. It’s true that within the story, there is a strong aspect that deals with the life of marginalised Indians.

Do you sense a parallel between the film and the political situation in Punjab or in Canada?

No, not at all.

How is the film relevant to today’s world?

I guess it’s more relevant than ever before. There is this maelstrom that we are all a part of, willingly or unwillingly. Identity, chauvinism, trying to shirk that heavy mantle of colonialism, trying to find our place under the sun. The Beeba Boys represent a microcosm of that world. 

Any particular reason for casting Randeep Hooda?

Randeep is fantastic as the boss of the Beeba Boys. He has brought such nuance, complexity to the role. By the end, despite the fact that he is a criminal, one can’t help but feel the tragic loss of potential. Now, that’s no mean feat. Why Randeep? Because he has an incredible range, is subtle and was terrific in Highway and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (he stole that film!)

When making a film on the life of a criminal, how do you escape glorifying both crime and the criminal?

You just tell the story as honestly as you can. There are no hidden agendas of glorifying crime or criminals, and yet there is also no agenda to not show how they function. It’s what they are — criminals. If the audience can see why they got there and relate to their narrative arc, that’s something I would like to see.

All the men here look stylish and handsome. Is it only a cinematic detail or necessity of the script, or a ploy to make audiences swoon over them?

To swoon is always good! Seriously, the Gang feels they have to make a style statement in order to be seen in a White dominant culture. Most films with male actors in the West end up in their playing cab drivers, gas attendants, corner store workers, truck drivers, terrorists. And if they are lucky, they get to play stethoscope-wielding doctors. All meek, mild do-gooders. By robbing them of their complexity, they are reduced to victims of reverse racism. Exactly what the Beeba Boys are fighting against on a level. Don’t get me wrong. They are also a brutal bunch, into trading cocaine and arms.

You said you were depressed when Hooda called it a commercial film … is that such a bad thing?

I was just kidding! It’s a filmmaker’s dream come true if the film is a critical and a commercial success. 

What is the biggest challenge of making a film based on true events? Do facts lend themselves in a fictional narrative or a particular craft is involved in marrying fact with fiction?

The latter. That is marrying fact with fiction. It’s fun really.

Is the film designed for Indian or Canadian or global audiences? Does such a divide exist?

It’s designed for intelligent, curious audiences. The colour of their skin or geographic nadir doesn’t matter to me at all.

You are certainly not a Bollywood director but your association with Bollywood actors continues. Do they fit well in your cinema?

I think Bollywood actors and I are a good fit. I loved working with the ones I have. 

You have quite a mix of actors from different nationalities. Do they bring different energies to the film?

Most of the actors in Beeba Boys are Canadian and were born here. Some are of Indian descent, one is from Pakistan and one from Iran originally. Randeep is from Haryana, Waris from NYC. A heady mixture that made the group very dynamic. 

How does Amritsar, or for that matter Punjab, live in you and in your films? 

You can take a Punjabi out of Punjab but it’s kind of tough taking Punjab out of a Punjabi.

Waris Ahluwalia too belongs to Amritsar. While working with him, was there a special connection?

Yup, we spoke about food a lot!

Is Beeba Boys your first film in which you broach a Punjabi subject?

Not at all. Heaven on Earth with Preity Zinta and Rocky Bhardwaj is entirely in Punjabi.

What is the status of the film on Komagata Maru?

It’s on hold.

How easy is it to be an Indian filmmaker in Canada?

It’s tough being a filmmaker anywhere in the world, Indian or not.

Would Beeba Boys too provoke viewers and ignite sentiments?

Who knows? I can only hope not.

nonikasingh1@rediffmail.com

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