Saturday, 3 September 2011

For filmmaker Vinay Virmani, father knows best

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, Vinay Virmani would lie awake thinking about Breakaway, the movie he co-wrote and stars in. Then he would hear one of the film’s producers shuffling around in the kitchen.

That’s how many pivotal discussions would begin, in the living room or kitchen of their Oakville home, over a bowl of cereal.

“I’d get up at two in the morning,” his father, Ajay Virmani, recalls. “I’d say, ‘We should change this scene. What do you think?’ Then we’d debate it for two hours.”

“The great thing about our relationship,” Vinay, 26, says, “is that when we talk about work, we don’t talk about it as a father and son. We talk about it as two people who started this company together.” This afternoon, they are at Roots on Bloor Street, trying on promotional jackets that the Canadian retailer made for their film.

The logo for the Speedy Singhs — the all-Sikh hockey team featured in Breakaway — is emblazoned on the back. In the movie, which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10, Vinay plays Rajveer, whose father wants him to quit hockey to focus on the family business.

The film echoes parts of their lives. Vinay and Rajveer, for example, are both passionately pursuing unorthodox careers. In the film, Rajveer’s uncle runs a trucking company. In real life, Ajay runs Cargojet, Canada’s largest cargo airline. 

Like the father in the film, Ajay moved to Canada from India looking for opportunity. He arrived in 1975 armed with an economics degree, having worked in factories, washing windows and selling insurance. He got a clerical job at Cottrell Transport in 1976, worked his way up to the top and quit to start his own company in 1989. Five years later, he bought Cottrell. Cargojet went public in 2005; Ajay knew neither of his two children would adopt the business.

This is where story and real life diverge. Unlike the father in the film, Ajay encouraged his children to chase their dreams.

“My whole philosophy in life,” Ajay, 55, explains, “is if you want to be successful at something, you have to have passion for it. So follow your dreams and be stubborn enough that your dreams come true.” Then he adds, for the sake of practicality: “If you’re going to be successful in the entertainment business, make sure you know how to count your money.”

He sits in a leather armchair with his ankle crossed over his knee, his BlackBerry in one hand, his glasses in the other. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, Vinay is reclined in an adjacent seat. He chuckles at his father’s remark. He did take his advice. He got his bachelor’s degree in business from York University before studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York. This is his debut role.

The movie business isn’t foreign to Ajay, though. His good friend is Bollywood star Akshay Kumar. Ajay also executive- produced Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-winning film, Water.

His son had pitched him film ideas before — romantic comedies, dark dramas — but he didn’t bite until the summer of 2009. Prompted by his father’s wisdom — “Don’t depend on other people to give you scripts and cast you. If you’re not finding the right project, write one that you like and we’ll see if it’s feasible to develop,” Ajay said — Vinay stayed at the kitchen table until 5 a.m. one day and came up with Breakaway.

They say they are proud to have made a film that anyone can relate to. 

“He always says, ‘Don’t make films for yourself,’” Vinay explains.

“It’s like chefs,” says Ajay, who used to invest in restaurants such as Colborne Lane. “I’ve come across chefs who make dishes and say, ‘I don’t want to put pepper on it. I don’t want to commercialize it.’ Just because you like it, doesn’t mean everyone else likes it.”

If father and son both like it, however, it scores.

Breakaway screens Sept. 10 at the Visa Screening Room (Elgin) and Sept. 11 at AMC2 at TIFF.

 Source: National Post

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