The bright lights of a movie set will shine again in Regina and just in time to help brighten up the upcoming long dark days of January.
Filming for the comedy/drama Indians in Cowtown begins in early 2021. The screenplay is by acclaimed writer and actor Agam Darshi. Agam will also act and direct the movie. She will work alongside co-producers Anand Ramayya and Kelly Balon from Saskatoon-based Karma Film.
Darshi and Ramayya were in Regina recently scouting locations for the upcoming shoot.
Darshi is making a name for herself onscreen. She is fresh off a prominent role in Funny Boy, directed by Oscar-nominated director Deepa Mehta. Funny Boy has been chosen as Canada’s Oscars submission for best international film. Darshi has come a long way since her screen debut in the 2004 TV show renegades.com, which also happened to be shot in Regina. Since then, she has appeared in numerous programs, including The Good Doctor, The Gifted, Bates Motel, Played, Sanctuary. She will also appear in the TV movie DMZ for HBO MAX, soon to be released. She recently won her third Leo Award for Unkept.
Darshi, who grew up in Calgary, is making her directorial debut in the Regina production. I asked her to tell me a little more about Indians in Cowtown.
“It’s about a Sikh-Punjabi family in Calgary,” says Darshi, who describes the movie as a comedy/drama. “Indians is such a loaded word for Indigenous people and for south Asians. It is kind of cheeky like the movie is, and Cowtown is a term of endearment for Calgary, so it just seemed to fit.”
Darshi will play the Punjabi-Canadian character, Mona.
“Mona’s a bit of a failure at life as we all are sometimes. And she goes back home to live with her father, who is sick with cancer and ends up taking care of him for seven years. And when his health takes a turn for the worse, her three very successful siblings come home to take care of the situation. It’s about family. It’s about forgiving the past and moving on. It definitely has a lot of moments of levity and humour,” she says.
The movie will also feature Saskatoon-born actor Kim Coates.
Darshi’s screenplay inspiration speaks to her Punjabi-Canadian roots. She says the Punjabi-Canadian experience is different from the Hindu or the Muslim-Canadian experience. I asked Darshi about that.
“I think sometimes we all get slotted in the same bucket because you are South Asian,” says Darshi, who co-founded the International South Asian Film Festival. “We don’t necessarily have a home to go back to, so we are here. We have kept some of the traditions incredibly strong as a result. Punjabis are known to be loud and wild and have a strong link and appreciation for their culture and religion. It’s important to me as a filmmaker to visually showcase the lives of second-generation immigrants who, unlike their parents, have a strong sense of belonging in their country. As diverse storytellers, we now have the luxury to tackle themes of personal identity, rather than just cultural identity.”
Ramayya can undoubtedly relate.
“So many things in that script are so relatable to me and my experience. I am lucky to be a part of it,” says Ramayya.
I have been a big fan of Ramayya’s work for several years since seeing Cosmic Current, a personal documentary of his family and their spiritual pilgrimage from their home in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, to India. His film production company Karma Film has produced an impressive body of work with more than 50 hours of film and television, including the popular Wapos Bay, the children’s stop motion animated series. Karma Film produces documentaries, movies, animation, and TV programs. I highly recommend you check out Karma Film’s page, where some of this work is on display.
Ramayya says he loved the Indians in Cowtown script and went to work to set things up in Saskatchewan. The production was made possible thanks in large part to support from Telefilm Canada, Creative Saskatchewan, Canada Media Fund and Superchannel.
“Karma Film’s vision is to support underrepresented stories and storytellers. We are thrilled to be involved in Agam’s directorial debut. We were able to get some good support from the government. We have a nice facility here, and the project was just the right size. And a part of me was sort of feeling that in this day and age of COVID, it’s really a good time for us to really regroup and try to stay local and do what we can,” says Ramayya.
Speaking of local, Ramayya says people in Regina will recognize some of the movie locations, including a scene from the Albert Street Bridge. The team is also connecting with the local Sikh Society.
“That’s a big part of this project, and it’s the way we should be approaching projects that are set in a community. So we’ve connected with the Sikh Society of Regina. Our hope is that they will get excited about the project as much as we are, and we will be able to collaborate on a whole bunch of things,” says Ramayya.
That collaboration will be made easier thanks to Darshi’s mother, who will join the production team as its cultural consultant.
“She will bridge that gap between the Punjabi community and us. She can speak Punjabi, whereas mine is not so good,” she says.
As for the filming schedule, pre-production will be in December, and the movie shoot will begin on January 11th.