Major Punjabi feature film shot in a BC ghost town explores the history of the province’s early Sikh settlers

In the early 1900s, a young man travels to Canada to earn money for his family back home. After joining a small group of fellow Punjabis working in a sawmill, he faces harsh working conditions, harassment and discrimination.

This is the synopsis of a new breakthrough movie titled “ਛੱਲਾ ਮੁੜ ਕੇ ਨਹੀਂ ਆਇਆ” (Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya – Chhalla Never Returned) starring famous Punjabi singer and actor Amrinder Gill.

The film was largely shot in the gold rush-era ghost town of Barkerville in interior British Columbia, about 120 kilometers south of Prince George. It follows the fictional story of a Punjabi immigrant named Chhalla, but is inspired by the true stories of Punjabi workers who came to Canada to work in sawmills in the early 20th century.

The film is produced by Rhythm Boyz Entertainment, a Canadian entertainment company which also operates in India and the United States. It is one of the key players in the burgeoning Punjabi film industry, which caters to Punjabi speakers in India, Pakistan and diaspora communities around the world.

The story is inspired by the true stories of Punjabi immigrants who came to British Columbia to work in the sawmills in the early 1900s. (Rhythm Boyz Entertainment)

With a budget of over $1.5 million, the film is one of the most expensive Punjabi films to date and stars two of the biggest names in the Punjabi entertainment industry, Amrinder Gill and Sargun Mehta . It employed a team of nearly 200 people in British Columbia and tells the little-known story of the province’s first Sikh immigrants.

“Ancient History Comes Alive”

Satwinder Bains, director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, said her first reaction upon seeing the film’s trailer was pure joy.

“It’s ancient history coming to life,” she said. “The story is in the classroom. The story is in our books. The story is in our homes, and now the story is in the theater.”

Bains, whose research area includes migration and racism, says she was pleased to see that the makers of the film had done their research in order to tell the story.

The production team transformed the Alberni Valley heritage sawmill into the “Kimble Saw Mill”. (Rhythm Boyz Entertainment)

Bains says films like these have the potential to inspire younger generations to learn their history in ways that books or schools can’t and should be seen as an “opening” to discuss and learn.

“We need our communities to understand that we have been here for over 100 years and that 100 years have been filled with experiences – good, bad, indifferent and ugly.”

The film also touches on the stories of other immigrant communities.

Sydney Eberwein, the Vancouver-based actor who stars alongside Gill in the female lead, says her character is based on an Italian immigrant working as a housekeeper trying to earn money to support her family. remained in the country.

Sydney Eberwein, the Vancouver-based actor who stars opposite Gill, says the film also reflects the complex relationships between different immigrant experiences in British Columbia in the early 20th century. (Submitted by Sydney Eberwein)

Speaking about the similarities between her and Gill’s characters, Eberwein says their very first interaction in the film perfectly mirrors the parallels between BC’s immigrant communities, and through her character the film is able to address briefly the experience of Italian immigrants in British Columbia.

“I say in Italian ‘Io sono come te.’ I’m like you,” Eberwein said.

Growing demand for variety of entertainment

The film made $665,000 in its July 29 opening weekend, according to film industry publication Deadline.

It marks the directorial debut of Amrinder Gill, who also stars as the film’s protagonist.

Gill started his career as a Punjabi singer in 1999 with Doordarshan KendraIndia’s public broadcaster and has produced and starred in 22 films since 2009.

Sydney Eberwein says the success of this film in and out of theaters shows there is a demand for diverse voices on and off screen. (Rhythm Boyz Entertainment)

His song Mera Deewanapan topped the Asian Music Charts in 2014. He won Best Actor for his 2018 film Ashkeand his 2019 film, Chal Mera Putt, became the highest-grossing Punjabi film overseas.

The film also breaks new ground as the first Punjabi-language film to be shown in commercial cinemas in Vancouver, in addition to traditional markets such as Surrey and Richmond.

While stories revolving around various characters used to be considered niche, Bains says people are realizing that these stories can be told in entertaining and commercially successful ways.

“There’s a rich, solid story that needs to be told and needs to be told in a way that’s really accessible to our communities. And it can be profitable too,” Bains said.

A mostly Canadian crew of nearly 200 invaded the ghost town of Barkerville near Quesnel, British Columbia, as production on the film began earlier this year. (Rhythm Boyz Entertainment)

Eberwein says the warm reception to this film shows that there is a demand for diverse films illustrating a myriad of viewpoints.

“This film paves the way for the size of production that can be achieved here for a Punjabi film.”