CANADA ENTERTAINMENT Set in British Columbia's ghost town, Punjabi's premier feature...

Set in British Columbia’s ghost town, Punjabi’s premier feature film explores the history of the province’s first Sikh settlers.


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In the early 1900s, a young man travels to Canada to earn money for his family back home. Joining a small group of Punjabis working at a sawmill, he faces difficult working conditions, harassment and discrimination.

This is a synopsis of a groundbreaking new film titled “Chhalla Mad Ke Nahi Aaya – The Chhalla Who Wasn’t Returned” starring renowned Punjabi singer and actor Amrinder Gill.

The film was filmed primarily in the gold rush ghost town of Barkerville in the interior of British Columbia, about 120 km south of Prince George. It follows the fictional story of a Punjabi immigrant named Chhalla but is inspired by the real stories of Punjabi laborers who came to Canada to work in sawmills in the early 20th century.

The film is produced by Rhythm Boyz Entertainment, a Canadian entertainment company that also operates in India and the US. It is one of the major players in the growing Punjabi film industry which caters to Punjabi speakers in India, Pakistan and diasporas around the world.

The story is inspired by the true stories of immigrants from Punjab who came to British Columbia to work in sawmills in the early 1900s. (Rhythm Boys Entertainment)

With a budget of over $1.5 million, this film is one of the most expensive Punjabi films to date and stars two of the biggest names in the Punjabi entertainment industry, Amrinder Gill and Sargun Mehta. It employed a team of nearly 200 people in British Columbia and tells the little-known story of the province’s first Sikh immigrants.

“An old story comes to life”

Satwinder Baines, director of the Institute for South Asian Studies at Fraser Valley University, says her first reaction to the film’s trailer was pure joy.

“It’s an old story coming to life,” she said. “History in the classroom. History in our books. History in our homes, and now history in the theatre.”

Baines, whose field of research includes migration and racism, says she’s pleased to see the filmmakers have done their research to tell a story.

The production team converted the historic Alberni Valley sawmill into the “Kimble Saw Mill”. (Rhythm Boys Entertainment)

Baines says such films can inspire the younger generation to explore their history in a way that books or schools cannot, and should be seen as “discovery” for discussion and study.

“We need our communities to understand that we have been here for over 100 years and that 100 years have been full of experiences – the good, the bad, the indifferent and the ugly.”

The film also touches on the stories of other immigrant communities.

Sidney Eberwein, the Vancouver-based actress who played the female lead opposite Gill, says her character is based on an Italian immigrant maid who is trying to earn money to support her family at home.

Sydney Eberwein, the Vancouver-based actor who starred opposite Gill, says the film also reflects the complex relationships between different immigrants in British Columbia in the early 20th century. (Presented by Sidney Eberwein)

Speaking about the similarities between her and Gill’s characters, Eberwein says that their very first interaction in the film perfectly captures the parallels between British Columbia’s immigrant communities, and through her character, the film can touch briefly on the experience of Italian immigrants in British Columbia.

“I speak Italian: “Io sono come te”. I am just like you,” Eberwein said.

Growing demand for a variety of entertainment

The film grossed $665,000 in its opening weekend on July 29. Deadline film industry publication.

This is the directorial debut of Amrinder Gill, who also stars in the film.

Gill started his career as a Punjabi singer in 1999. Dordarshan KendraIndia’s public broadcaster, has appeared in and starred in 22 films since 2009.

Sidney Eberwein says the film’s success in and out of theaters shows that there is a demand for different voices on and off the screen. (Rhythm Boys Entertainment)

his song Mera Devanapan topped the Asian music chart in 2014. He received the Best Actor award for his 2018 film. Ashkeand his 2019 film, Chal Mera Putt, became the highest grossing Punjabi film overseas.

The film is also the first Punjabi film to be shown in commercial cinemas in Vancouver, in addition to traditional markets such as Surrey and Richmond.

While storylines revolving around different characters were previously considered niche, Baines says people are realizing that these stories can be told in an entertaining and commercially successful way.

“There is a rich and robust story that needs to be told, and needs to be told in a way that is truly accessible to our communities. And that can also be beneficial,” Baines said.

A mostly Canadian team of nearly 200 filled the ghost town of Barkerville near Quenelles, British Columbia as production began on the film earlier this year. (Rhythm Boys Entertainment)

Eberwein says the film’s warm reception shows there is a demand for a variety of films that portray multiple points of view.

“This film sets the stage for the scale of Punjabi film production that can be made here.”

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