A Punjabi movie filmed in Metro Vancouver is breaking box-office records in India — and many actors say it's a stepping stone to featuring more local talent in the Punjabi film industry.
The movie, released on Oct. 15, also ranked seventh in last weekend's North America box office, according to Canadian movie site, Tribute.
Honsla Rakh, which roughly translates to 'be patient' or 'be strong,' stars Punjabi singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh as a newly divorced dad raising a son on his own and attempting to find new love.
The movie was filmed over 40 days in Vancouver and Surrey in March and April this year, with a production crew of nearly 100 l staff from B.C., including makeup artists, backup dancers, and equipment and lighting operators.
"We were all in the middle of the pandemic. So it was nice to be here and work with the local talent," says Indian actor Sonam Bajwa, who plays one of the lead characters in the film.
'A stepping stone'
Harpo Mander, 25, who plays a receptionist on Honsla Rakh, says the opportunity to star in her first Punjabi film is a testament to challenging stereotypes and celebrating talent and culture in Surrey.
"I kept saying to myself, this feels like a stepping stone to something else. It feels like I am part of something bigger," said Mander, who is from Surrey. She also hosts the Brown Girl Guilt podcast.
"Surrey is the real deal ... there's a ton of talent brewing here and a ton of opportunity that we just have to tap on," she said.
Gurnaz Kaur, 21, an actor from Vancouver, says making her acting debut in the movie was a surreal experience.
"It's just so fun watching it because I'm a Vancouverite and to see myself, my city, being represented in the Punjabi industry is awesome," she said.
She echoes the importance of recognizing Canada's Punjabi talent.
"I think it's important to give people here an opportunity and a chance. I feel like it was a wonderful blend of culture," she said.
Three of the leading actors in Honsla Rakh are from India, including Dosanjh, Bajwa and Shehnaaz Gill, who plays the ex-wife of Dosanjh's character. The film also stars child actor Shinda Grewal.
Although COVID-19 posed challenges around getting visas for the actors travelling to Canada, local talent helped drive the movie's success, says producer Daljit Thind, who also works as a developer and entrepreneur in Vancouver.
"Our local talent, local support, local community support, that's what we [needed to have] done this movie," he says. "I think we should promote more our local talent."
The feature film is among several other Punjabi movies filmed in British Columbia including Manje Bistre 2, Love Punjab and Ardaas Karaan.