Beeba Boys: The Indo-Canadian Scarface?

The province's anti-gang squad reviews the new film, which focuses on and dresses up Vancouver's criminal world.

The Indo-Canadian Scarface?

That’s what Sgt. Lindsey Houghton has heard Beeba Boys called, and it’s one of the reasons for B.C.’s anti-gang squad cautioning against the new film, which Houghton says glorifies Vancouver’s criminal past, present, and future.

“I did not like the film at all,” Houghton said, in an interview last week. “This movie not only glorifies and sensationalizes the gang life but, in the words of someone who I was just speaking with… it may set back the police’s and the communities’ efforts significantly in our work to educate people about the truth about gangs.

“I spoke with a few South Asian youth about a month ago,” said Houghton, media relations officer for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU).

“These kids said they couldn’t wait to see it because, ‘This was their Indo-Canadian Scarface.'”

Beeba Boys debuted at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and is showing at the Vancouver International Film Festival, currently underway. It was directed by Deepa Mehta, famous for her work with movies like Water and Midnight’s Children, and stars actor Randeep Hooda as a simultaneously “devoted family man” and “merciless gangster” striving for power and supremacy in B.C.’s biggest city.

Of course, movies about the mob, or gangs, or crime are plentiful – and popular.

We’ve seen them set in Boston, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Nevada, just for a few North American examples. While Vancouver’s finally getting its due as a setting, not just a location, Houghton says that hometown pride can’t comb over the film’s errors.

Related: ‘Anti-gang tactics working, Mountie tells conference‘ by Jeff Nagel, Surrey Leader (July 24, 2014)

“As someone who’s grown up and lived in B.C. almost my entire life, seeing Vancouver as Vancouver is a pretty cool thing,” he said. “When you eventually see the movie you’ll see that even the Vancouver Police Department is portrayed prominently as the Vancouver Police Department, which I think is obviously a fairly interesting thing, although I don’t think it’s done very well.

“I think what the filmmaker has tried to do is weave in stories and realities that have happened in the South Asian gang scene and landscape of the past 20 years.”

Houghton said there are obvious parallels between Beeba Boys and the Lower Mainland’s recent criminal history, and the film’s profile on TIFF’s website says as much, calling it “a kinetic drama loosely based on the career of notorious crime lord “Bindy” Singh Johal and the Punjabi gangs of second- and third-generation Indian immigrants operation on Canada’s West Coast in the 1990s.”

Houghton said he knows Beeba Boys is entertainment – that it’s not a documentary.

But still, as someone who’s been in the force for parts of 17 years, he’s aware and wary of the film’s impact.

“Whether or not it’s entertainment is besides the point,” he said. “(These kids) think Scarface is their hero flick… we have to combat that.

“We have to swim upstream against this pop culture.”

And while Beeba Boys is obviously based on real events and notorious characters, Houghton said the film fails to capture reality.

“The gang lifestyle is an unbelievably paranoid lifestyle,” he said. “These guys don’t walk around and drive around like they own the city. In their minds, they might think that’s the case. But they are always looking over their shoulder for the police, for their enemies… they don’t operate with complete impunity like it’s portrayed in this movie.”

Houghton also said the movie focuses solely on the “South Asian gang scene,” but Vancouver’s criminal world is much more diverse.

“The reality is, the gang landscape, especially in the Lower Mainland but in B.C., is that every ethnic group is represented. It’s not purely a South Asian gang scene, as is portrayed in the movie.

“From a policing perspective, very little of what happens in this movie is reality… Maybe reality wouldn’t sell.”

VIDEO: Beeba Boys Trailer – Toronto Festival 2015

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