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NRI director to make film on Sikhs' journey to America

Passage Against the Tides captures a multi-generational portrait of a family settled in California a century ago.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2005 13:44 IST

A well known Indian origin television series director in the US has teamed up with two other professionals from the community to make a film on the journey of Indian Sikhs to North America.

Babu Subramaniam, Primetime Television network director, teamed up with Chirinjeev Kathuria, Chicago-based serial entrepreneur, and attorney-cum-model Punit Sabharwal to set up Passage Productions, LLC, to develop, create and market the motion picture titled "Passage Against the Tides".

Subramaniam, known for his work in the hit television series "ER", said: "I have just been fascinated about the history of Sikhs in this country. And I just think Americans are ignorant about this."

"Passage Against the Tides" captures a multi-generational portrait of the Johar family, which settled in Southern California's Imperial Valley a century ago. It tells the tale through two middle sons, Gurmeet and Harbance, who struggle for economic survival in the face of prejudice.

Subramaniam said he was interested in early Sikh history in the US, "actually starting in Canada in early 1900s, and how they travelled like labourers, down the West Coast. How a lot of them settled in Imperial Valley (California) and married Mexican women," Subramaniam told IANS.

"When I started researching the subject matter, there were a lot of major dramatic high points in the history. So the TV series 'Roots' came to my mind," he said.

Incidents like the arrival of the Japanese ship Komagata Maru, which in 1914 brought a group of more than 370 people to Vancouver; the "brown devils" as White Canadians termed the Indians on the ship who were denied the right to get off; and other anecdotes drove Subramaniam to consider bringing the story to screen.

"It's a classic television miniseries and can be structured as a six-hour miniseries. My original thinking was to bring in Canadian, American, Mexican, Indian, British television into it because the subject was so vast. But then the miniseries business is not a really very lucrative or profit bearing business. It's a lot more difficult than a movie. I'm not counting it out the though," he said.

Right now, however, "Our focus is to carve out a movie - like a docudrama. Create fictitious characters and tell the story through these two brothers," Subramaniam said.

Thousands of men from the Punjab province of then British India came to California for the purpose of earning some money and returning home. But poor wages and working conditions made them pool their resources, lease land, and grow their own crops, ultimately becoming successful farmers and entrepreneurs.

A number of the men settled in the Imperial Valley, just north of the Mexico border, where they used water from the Colorado river to irrigate the desert, a way of farming familiar to them in their homeland.

Subramaniam has known Kathuria for a long time, and the Chicago businessman, a Sikh himself, was interested enough to partner on this specific project to make a movie.

"We are in the process of raising development capital, which would entail doing extensive research and getting the script done. We hope to accomplish this is the next six months and get the film off the ground by the end of the year," Subramaniam calculated. He has just finished directing a Warner Brothers television series "The Evidence", which will be premiering early next year.

Subramaniam, who has directed multiple episodes of "ER" and received awards for his work from the Director's Guild of America West, has been a first assistant director for over 25 years. He has worked on such hit films and TV serials such as "Star Trek - The Next Generation", "Untamed Heart", "Hill Street Blues", and "The Paper Chase".

Kathuria, who has in the past delved in businesses ranging from commercial space travel to telecommunications, has founded companies like X-Stream Networks, Inc., MirCorp BV, PlanetSpace, Inc., and American Teleradiology & Nighthawks, Inc.

"'Passage Against the Tides' is going to follow the success of films such as 'Bend it Like Beckham' and 'Sideways'. It will incorporate so many different cultures and different backgrounds," Kathuria contended. "We are looking to have a fusion of both Bollywood actors and Hollywood actors," he added.

Sabharwal, who is responsible for operations and legal matters of the feature film, said the film's historic setting would have global appeal. "We are talking with a variety of Hollywood actors and will try to make our line up very diverse."

First Published: Nov 18, 2005 13:44 IST