TORONTO: As writers, playwrights and musicians from South Asia make Canada their home, they naturally struggle to find a place for their creations in the multicultural landscape of the country. The latest such venture is the Urdu film Bara Shayer Chhota Aadmi, which premiered in Toronto recently.
Written by Jawaid Danish and directed by Asif Rasheed, the film tells the story of a famous Urdu poet on a visit to Canada. Here an old flame of his college days back home, and a new impressionable young admirer vie for his romantic attention; the bara shayer now finds himself driven more by his political instincts of control and manipulation, and less by his devotion to poetry. As the game of the poet unfolds, one can sense a tragedy lurking in the wings.
Film directors from South Asia – Deepa Mehta is foremost among them – are finding their voice and their idiom in an attempt to tell their stories in Canada. It is by no means an easy task. Dislocated from one’s own social and political milieu, and from one’s language and passions, one has to reinvent oneself to engage the attention of disparate audiences in the new land.
As writers, Rohinton Mistry and M. G. Vassanji are two of the few authors in Canada who have struck a ‘fine balance’, both in their craft and in their subjects, in bringing the stories and concerns of their native lands to the discerning audiences in Canada. For many others – writers, playwrights – from South Asia, and indeed from other lands, the struggle still goes on.
It is thus that the present film Bara Shayer Chhota Aadmi assumes a significance of its own. Making a film is a large collective effort, requiring substantial funds, and coordination and skills of many. This film is a very valiant and concerted effort on the part of many to tell a story that enriches the Canadian cultural mosaic.
As the executive producer and writer of the film, and as artistic director of RangManch Canada, Jawaid Danish brings his extensive experience in theatre to making Bara Shayer Chhota Aadmi which is an engaging and imaginative film. The experience of many from South Asia as new immigrants in Canada is well-captured in crisp and witty dialogues, and a plot that is quick-paced and has many unexpected twists and turns. I only wish we had heard more of the shayer’s poetry that had apparently so stirred the two women, one of them to the point of suicide.
Films from India, of course, have large audiences in Canada, both in cinemas and through DVD’s. These films are equally popular in all of South Asia. Bara Shayer Chhota Aadmi is being presented as a film in Urdu, with English subtitles. However, the Urdu here is not dissimilar to the ‘Hindustani’ that is the language of most Bollywood films. Yet, it is not a usual Bollywood film; it has no songs and dances, no chase scenes, no hyperbolas. Its drama is in its human tensions. It is a restrained and well-crafted film, in which the narrative is always centre-stage and the characters carry an aura of credibility.
For our voices and stories to be told, and to be heard, by the others in Canada, and by the world at large, a film like Bara Shayer Chhota Aadmi makes an important contribution in that direction.
It speaks well of the commitment and artistic vision of the makers of this film that they have already announced the launch of another Urdu film, “Tanhaiyaan Muskuraane Lageen !” This is a most welcoming news for all of us who wish to see South Asian film artists in Canada make a place for themselves.
(Dr. Sehdev Kumar is Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo; he lectures on ‘International Films and the Human Condition’ at the University of Toronto)