Indian film maker will record Canada’s shame
In 1914 a shipload of 376 passengers from Hong Kong, most of them Sikhs, had their hopes of immigration to Canada dashed when the vessel carrying them to its shores was refused entry.
It was a shameful episode in Canadian history and now it is to be told in a feature film, Komagata Maru, which will star Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar and be directed by Toronto-based Indian film maker Deepa Mehta.
The ship denied entry to Vancouver was a Japanese vessel called Komagata Maru, which was hired for the voyage by wealthy Malaysian-based Sikh Gurdit Singh. Seeking a better life for themselves, its passengers believed that humanitarian considerations would prevail over the racist laws then applying in the Dominion.
Instead, they were denied entry by a warship for two months before being sent back to India. There, more than 20 passengers died at the hands of the British India police.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologised for the incident earlier this year.
Akshay Kumar will play Gurdit Singh in the movie, which will cost up to $35 million and may include some well-known Hollywood names in the cast.
Deepa Mehta sees the film as an opportunity to reveal a significant moment in Canadian history and to illustrate the steadfast bravery of the Sikh community, who, she says, have sacrificed much to help create a more tolerant society in her adopted country.
Komagata Maru is scheduled to begin shooting in September 2009.
Deepa Mehta’s latest film Heaven on Earth was shown at the recent Vancouver International Film Festival and screens in Canadian cinemas from October 31.
It is the story of a victim of domestic violence in a Punjabi household which the director hopes will expose some of the dark realities of life experienced in migrant communities.
Mehta said: “Unless we are allowed to expose our dark side, our underbelly, we’re not going to be treated as complete citizens of this country.”
But she said the film, starring Preity Zinta, wasn’t only for abused women in the Punbjabi community, but for all Canadians.
It was inspired partly by Irish writer Roddy Doyle’s novel The Woman who Walked into Doors and partly by a woman Mehta met who had been abused for nine years before leaving her husband and joining the police.
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