She has probably heard the criticism – the early reviews and allegations that her new film is rife with inaccuracies and careless treatment of Vancouver’s gang scene.
But Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta is standing behind Beeba Boys, as are the film’s stars.
“It’s the first time I’ve been fully immersed within my own culture, so it took Deepa to do that, and that was great,” said actor Waris Ahluwalia, while promoting the movie in Toronto. “But to tell that story, and to be part of changing that landscape of cinema and culture.
“We’re not all doctors or lawyers or, unfortunately some of us are gangsters, too.”
Because of its subject matter, Beeba Boys – which shows a group of young, Indo-Canadian gangsters climbing up Vancouver’s criminal ranks, under-cutting the city’s incumbents and the old men in the way – is destined to draw either applause or scoffs, both from the community it’s depicting and any of the ones it’s not. Anyone who thinks this movie represents themselves or their city, even their province, is going to have an opinion on it – whether they see it or not, probably.
And we know where the police are likely to line up.
“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,” said Sgt. Lindsey Houghton, media relations officer for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), speaking to Black Press this month (link below).
“I spoke with a few South Asian youth about a month ago,” he said. “These kids said they couldn’t wait to see it because, ‘This was their Indo-Canadian Scarface.'”
Read: ‘Beeba Boys: The Indo-Canadian Scarface?‘ by Kolby Solinsky, Surrey Now (October 6, 2015)
Of course, that would be great for Mehta. And it would certainly be great for the film’s lead, Bollywood star Randeep Hooda, who plays a Bindy Johal-ish crime boss, the flashy leader of the ‘Beeba Boys’ who lives at home and is carving his corner of Vancouver’s gangland.
Imagine being an entire community’s Tony Montana? Imagine if you’re Hooda, and suddenly your name is up there, to some, with Al Pacino? That’s how careers are made.
Even Houghton admits, he knows the movie is just a movie – “It’s entertainment,” he said, although he’s wary of the film’s potential impact, and how it will affect his work.
“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.”
He added, “Maybe reality wouldn’t sell.”
In pre-wide release reviews, Beeba Boys has been treated as gory drama, not a documentary. And maybe, not even as a drama.
Recapping the film in September, after it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, Variety‘s Andrew Barker called it a “hyperviolent, Tarantino-inspired comedy” and he lauded it for being the first (to his knowledge) “to take place entirely within the Canadian Sikh criminal underworld.”
“The premise and cultural specificity will surely draw some attention – Sikhs hardly ever get to see themselves in Western cinema at all, much less cast as sexy, snappily dressed criminal supermen – but niche business likely beckons.”
Barker even called Hooda’s character “an Indo-Canadian Nicky Barnes,” an obvious plug for the film’s in-your-face colour and style – Barnes was a Harlem-based drug dealer in the 1970s, one of the trend-setters for the disco swag known as superfly, who was known as ‘Mr. Untouchable’.
So is the film’s obvious over-the-top style and gaudiness, which is evident just from two minutes spent with the trailer (below), an intentional over-the-top?
Perhaps. Or probably not. And it doesn’t really matter, does it?
To Mehta, who migrated to Canada from India in 1973, this is a real movie about real people and real cities. And a real country and community.
“There are aspects of our community that are unsavoury, and we have to help them,” said Mehta, also in Toronto. “When they’re grieving mothers, they’re orphans, these guys who have potential die at the age of 25. So that’s the responsibility of the community, and then there is the larger community – the community of Canadians.
“We’re all Canadians together. I mean, why does this happen? What is our responsibility to the new immigrants that come in?”
Listening to Mehta speak, she’s not hiding behind the entertainer’s clause – meaning, she made this movie with her eyes wide open and her investigator’s hat on.
She’s aware of the responsibilities, the real-life parallels, and the politics. And it sounds like she’s embracing them.
“Thematically for me, this film reflects all my concerns, that are there in all my films,” she said. “Those are concerns about identity, assimilation, immigration, how do we become visible in a society that’s relegated us to being invisible?”
Ali Momen, who stars in Beeba Boys as one of the Beeba Boys, like Ahluwalia, agrees:
“I think Deepa wants to let people know who don’t know that there are things happening, specifically in British Columbia,” he said.
“This movie’s getting a lot of controversy and a lot of slack because, if a minority group has perhaps they believe they have (sic) stereotypes put on against them, the last thing they want is those stereotypes exacerbated.
“But that’s not what this is, because if you actually look and see the entire movie, there’s a big debate that Deepa puts out. The debate is, is it nature or is it nurture. I think the big takeaway at the end of the movie is, nobody’s born into anything. You become it; you’re taught it.
“I feel the movie has a very hopeful ending.”