TORONTO - For his first feature film, "Breakaway" writer-star Vinay Virmani penned a tale about a Sikh hockey player whose father doesn't understand his love of the game.
And when Virmani turned to his own dad, Ajay, to produce the movie — which recently had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival — it tested their own relationship.
|Lead actor and writer Vinay Virmani and his father, producer Ajay Virmani of the new Canadian film Breakaway.|
"For the most part, we had a very healthy sort of partnership," Ajay Virmani said in a recent interview, seated next to his son.
"We had a lot of debates at 2 in the morning over a bowl of cereal, and (we'd) carry on until the early hours of the morning — until one of us said, 'The hell with it.'
"But we showed up on the set the next day, smiling and ready to go to work. And like in any relationship, the debates were very sort of creative and healthy, and it moved the story forward."
That story revolves around Rajveer Singh (Vinay Virmani), who sleepily drifts through shifts at his uncle's trucking company while focusing his energy on hockey. When the local amateur team rejects Singh, he rallies his Punjabi pals to form a team of their own — and manages to recruit an ex-NHLer (played by Emmy-nominated actor Rob Lowe) to coach the slapdash squad.
All the while, he clashes with his traditional father, who questions his progeny's priorities and still can't get over the fact that Singh cut his hair short in what seemed like an act of defiance.
While Virmani himself isn't a born Sikh, he says he does "believe in the religion heavily." When the 27-year-old began crafting this story about two years ago, he drew from the experiences of friends and family who have endured generational clashes over shifting cultural values.
"A lot of our friends go through it," his dad said. "We have friends, relatives, we've seen what happens with immigrant families here that not only come from Southeast Asia, but Philippines, or China, or the Caribbean."
Added Vinay Virmani: "All families, really. Because I think as children, we try to find that perfect balance between following our own dream and trying to live up to our parents' expectations."
Growing up in Brampton, Ont., Virmani developed a passion for hockey, playing in local house leagues — a warmth for the winter sport he says is shared by many in the Southeast Asian community.
"Indians love hockey," he said. "I think it's that carryover from field hockey, (which is) the national sport of India."
Virmani's character in the film is a frequent target for racial bullying while playing the sport he loves, with a flashback scene depicting other kids flicking pucks at his head in an attempt to dislodge his turban.
That material was only partially based in Virmani's real life, he said.
"I went through elements of it. I was very fortunate that things that happened to them, nothing as serious happened to me. But the things that they go through are reality for lots of not only South Asians, Sikhs, but a lot of immigrant children."
But "Breakaway" doesn't linger long on such heavy subject matter. Mostly, it's a breezy, upbeat sports comedy flick that will hope to hook families when it opens in wide release later this month.
And the filmmakers aren't limiting their aim to the domestic market.
Ajay Virmani — who is president and CEO of the airline CargoJet — says the film will open on 600 screens in India, with some of the local cultural colour (references to Wayne Gretzky, for instance) being snipped in favour of generic dialogue.
And the film's roster of globe-spanning stars should help sell the movie to international audiences. In addition to a co-starring turn from Lowe, the film also features cameos from rap stars Drake and Ludacris and Indian superstar Akshay Kumar, while Canadian comedian Russell Peters ad libs his way through a performance as a slightly sleazy character poised to marry into Singh's family.
"They gave me a chance to do what I wanted to do," Peters said in a recent interview. "I chose to be like a (jerk) from New York and play him up that way — snarky, lovably snarky, you know. You kind of hate him and root for him at the same time."
But Peters didn't sign up for the project because he wanted to be in a hockey movie.
"I don't like hockey at all to be honest with you. I could care less about it."
Vinay Virmani might have also seen his passion for the game fade ever so slightly over the course of making the film.
While shooting, Virmani spent entire days strapped into his skates. It was particularly taxing during the film's centrepiece on-ice Bollywood dance number, in which Virmani twirls his on-screen love interest (Camilla Belle) around and around on a fantastical rink.
Shooting that scene took 12 hours. Needless to say, Virmani hasn't hurried back to any frozen ponds since.
"I don't want to put on another pair of skates," he says with a smile. "I think I still have blisters on my feet from that shoot."
Source: Winnipeg Free Press