These are good days for Agam Darshi, the sometimes-Surreyite who has made a movie that comes from her heart and soul.
The actor/writer’s directorial debut, “Donkeyhead,” also stars Darshi as Mona, a failed writer who carves out a life of isolation while caring for her ailing, traditional-Sikh father. Strife happens when he has a stroke, and her three siblings show up determined to take control of the situation.
The comedy-drama debuts in Canada this week, following mostly positive reviews in the U.S. theatres in recent months, and also on Netflix south of the border.
“To have it come to Canada now feels very personal, and it’s really a thrill,” said Darshi, noting an online-only screening March 8 during the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, followed by a run at Vancity Theatre (VIFF) starting Friday, March 11, with a Q&A event Saturday and possible Surrey-area screenings to come.
The title for “Donkeyhead” comes from the Punjabi word ‘khota,’ meaning Donkey, which is sometimes used by Punjabi parents towards their children when they’ve done something wrong or silly, Darshi explained.
The U.K.-born Darshi and her family later settled in Canada and eventually Surrey, where her parents still live.
There are some autobiographical moments in her movie.
“I lived with my father when he was undergoing chemo about six years ago, and at the time my husband and I moved in with my parents, and I was pregnant with twins,” the filmmaker explained.
“My dad, he was sick with cancer, and it was such a weird time. My mom took some months off work and just took care of him – that was her whole job, her world. It was such an ugly disease, seeing what it does to people, but fortunately my dad got through it and is in remission, but it was a lot. And I think that became a backbone for this story, for sure.”
Today, Darshi is back living in Los Angeles with her husband, actor/filmmaker Juan Riedinger, and their kids.
She began writing the “Donkeyhead” script nearly a decade ago, and eventually called it “Indians in Cowtown” and set the story in Calgary, not Regina as “Donkeyhead” ended up. Filming was done in the Saskatchewan capital during the pandemic.
“It’s a film about family and trying to find that balance between comedy and drama – I call it dramedy, with lighter moments and also some heart,” Darshi explained. “That was important to me but it’s hard to do. We had to cut almost an hour of footage, and when we started chiseling away, we had to decide what the film really was – what the heartbeat of it is. So a lot of those comedic moments that I thought were so great in the script, they’re good but weren’t really great and didn’t offer much more to the film, so those were the ones that ended up going. And what we ended up with is something a lot more dramatic than I had perhaps intended.”
Darshi said she still loves to act, but wants to direct more films in the future.
“The older I get, the more I want to tell my own stories and be behind the camera,” she explained.
“There is so much of me in this film, it’s terrifying,” Darshi added with a laugh. “I’m OK with it now but when it first came out, I was really scared because you don’t know how something is going to land, how people are going to understand what you’re trying to do, the story you’re telling, your intentions.
“And it is personal, and I show my bum – you know, so many reasons why this is really scary,” Darshi continued. “But now that I have some experience with that, I realize that for the most part, audiences are so supportive, and are so excited to see this story and to have this story – especially South Asian audiences, but it also resonates with those outside of that community. That’s been surprising and also really heartwarming. There are a lot of themes that people can pull from.”