A 2nd-generation Canadian wanted to learn more about his dad. So he made a movie about him

·3 min read
Manny Mahal, centre, interviews his father Inderjit for his film
Manny Mahal, centre, interviews his father Inderjit for his film

Following the death of his mother, Vancouver filmmaker Manny Mahal realized he knew precious little about his father, particularly his life in India before he moved to Canada.

He decided the best way to learn about his dad was by doing what he knew best — making a film.

For My Father, which is available on CBC Gem as part of the Absolutely Canadian series, is the result of Mahal's journey to bridge the cultural gap between himself and his father.

Growing up, Mahal said he was very close to his mother, who had come to Canada from India as a child and related to him about things like hockey.

"When she passed away, I realized that I wasn't really as close with my dad in the same way because my dad had grown up in India, which is very, very different than growing up in Canada," Mahal said. "I don't think my dad ever went to an ice rink as a kid like I did."

Dekko U Studio/Erin Sandhu
Dekko U Studio/Erin Sandhu

Mahal started the project unsure of where it would lead or whether it would see the light of day. His goal, he said, was to get his father Inderjit to talk about himself.

"I will say I never intended for this to actually become a movie per se," he said. "This sounds terrible probably — this was a complete manipulation tactic by me just to get my dad to open up and talk to me more," he said.

"Because I felt like, 'Hey, dad, we got the camera on. You have a mic on, your lights are on, you can't walk away now.'"

Inderjit said he was unsure of what exactly he was getting into.

"I agreed with him because I never say no to my boys," he said. "I'm willing to do anything for them."

Opening up

During the interview process, Mahal learned about his father's early years in Canada where he worked as a cab driver before going on to build a distinguished career with the federal government, and later as a civilian member of the RCMP.

Inderjit also opened up about his family back in India, particularly his older brother who died before Mahal was born. After his brother's death, Inderjit went back to India to work on his brother's farm. He also helped his brother's wife and two sons come to Canada.

Mahal says he never would have learned so much about his uncle if he hadn't gotten his dad in front of a camera.

"I didn't even know his name until we started making this movie together," he said.

"I think that was a big element is that in making this film together, I got to learn a lot about my dad, but I think my dad also got to share things that he just never brought up."

'A lot of families are in our situation'

The Mahals hope the film will inspire viewers to have conversations about the sacrifices first-generation Canadians make for future generations.

"A lot of families are in our situation," Inderjit said. "And I don't think ever this topic ever comes up ... where their parents come from, how they got here. All the kids see is big houses. They have no idea how they got there."

Mahal said making the film brought him closer to his father. It also helped them heal following the death of Mahal's mother in a car accident.

Mahal also learned something else about his soft-spoken dad during the making of For My Father — that he is a natural in front of the camera.

"I have a theory … that every Indian man deep down has a Bollywood genius waiting in there," he said. "When a camera turns on, it just comes out. It's like, 'Whoa, it's been dormant this entire time.'"

For My Father airs on CBC Gem starting Aug. 6 as part of Absolutely Canadian, a national one-hour series showcasing documentaries and performance programs that tell unique stories from communities across Canada.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting