New film on gay Indo-Canadians explores the challenges they face
A new Vancouver-based production house, formed to tell stories of gay Indo-Canadians through the medium of cinema, will soon release its first documentary feature that explores the challenges they face when it comes to acceptance within the community.
The unit Sher Films, spawned by Sher Vancouver, a pioneering gay-oriented charity focused on support and counselling for gay Indo-Canadians, has wrapped Emergence: Out of the Shadows, its debut feature-length documentary, that is expected to be screened at several film festivals in the weeks ahead.
Sher Vancouver’s founder Alex Sangha, who has roots near Jalandhar in Punjab, is also the producer of Emergence. He said, “We realised the impact filmmaking can have. It’s another way of doing social work, you can really effect change.”
In fact, he said the Indo-Canadian gay experience was an “underrepresented film genre” with “such a limited availability of content on this subject matter” and they hoped to play a role in “filling in and adding to the body of work”.
The film focuses on three real-life stories, those of Indo-Canadians of Sikh heritage and the adversities they have to overcome after coming out in what remains a conservative culture. The central character is Kayden Bhangu, a youth from near Ludhiana in Punjab, who came to Canada as an international student and was ostracised by his family and abandoned after they learnt of his sexuality.
As Sangha said, “It was heartbreaking, it was shocking. We don’t want this to happen to any other kids in our community. We want to create safe spaces. He was so traumatised, he was so emotionally hurt and left alienated and abandoned in a foreign country with no money, no food, no shelter, his immigration status was in limbo.”
Kayden’s story is the principal part of the narrative, though it includes other compelling biographies like that of Jag Nagra, a gay woman, and her equation with her family which was already trying to cope with the reality that her brother was also gay.
The reason Emergence features Punjabi Sikhs in particular, Sangha said, was that the community is a “large demographic” within the Indo-Canadian community in the Metro Vancouver region. “We wanted to make the film consistent and stick to one group of people,” he said.
However, it ought to appeal to a larger audience, according to Emergence’s director Vinay Giridhar, who is originally from Kerala, simply because it’s a human story with “universal themes” at its heart, of adversity, but also, at times, redemption.
Sher Films came into being after Sher Vancouver produced a short documentary, My Name Was January, in 2018. It was screened at 63 film festivals globally and won 14 awards. Sangha is hopeful Emergence will be as impactful, as it has already been accepted into four film festivals, two in Canada, one in the United States and one in India, though he was unwilling to publicise their names till official announcements were released.