The Breakaway Film Of The Year!
We all know that the ongoing whirlwind of technological advancement is bringing with it, instant access to information globally, thus lending great dividends to the narrowing of the ages-old gap of cultural ignorance and shifting the dynamic to an aggressive intercultural melting pot of innovative sorts. This is due also in part to the economic shift of power from the west to the east. Since 2009, people in the west have since wanted to know more and more about what’s going on in the east, especially as it relates to fashion, entertainment and business, such industries that have soared in the past decade. It’s not surprising then that what was initiated by the early 1990’s array of independent South Asian crossover films like Bend It Like Beckham, Fire and Monsoon Wedding, there would be a time when South Asian crossover films would come of age and cross the iron line from niche to mass. A prime example of this is the film Breakaway which saw its world première at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September and formally released on the theatre circuit on September 30. Distributed by Alliance Atlantis, this 90-minute bicultural romantic comedy is infused with all the components you’d expect from a super smash hit…
A tremendous global & eclectic principle cast: Thespians, Anupam Kher & Rob Lowe; well-known comedic actors, Russell Peters, Gurpreet ‘Ghuggi’ Singh and Noureen DeWulf; beauty, Camilla Belle and boy-next-door, newcomer, Vinay Virmani… a stellar support cast: Akshay Kumar, Drake and Ludacris…an award-winning director: Robert Lieberman… a pioneering producer: Ajay Virmani…a kicking soundtrack with electric music videos… movie merchandise and paraphernalia…AND mass distribution to boot!
You can imagine my excitement when I got the opportunity to interview some of the cast.
Breakaway — The Film…
What to you is this film about?
Russell Peters: A kid named Rajveer Singh, who, like me, grew up in Canada and wants to play hockey, despite what his parents want him to do.
Noureen DeWulf: Breakaway is a cross-cultural, family, sports film. It’s about a young Indian man, Rajveer and how his Western dreams of being a professional hockey player compete with his old-school Indian family’s more traditional ideas of what they want for his life.
Vinay Virmani: Breakaway is about following your heart and creating your own path to turn your dreams into reality. At its core, it’s a film about celebrating our differences.
Camilla Belle: This film, at its heart, is about acceptance; acceptance of culture, beliefs, morals, needs and family.
Why choose to do it?
RP: I could relate to a story of the son of immigrants who wants to do his own thing and not what’s expected of him by the community or his family.
ND: I thought the script was lovely and sweet and I love hockey! I am also a big fan of Russell Peters’ comedy and I wanted to work with him. When I heard he was attached and it was an Indian hockey movie, I pretty much agreed right away to be a part of the film.
VV: I wrote the story and many elements were inspired from my own personal life. It was my dream role and I’m very blessed that it became my debut film.
CB: I have always been fascinated by the Indian culture and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to not only learn a vast amount, but also to be a part of a film that the whole family can watch together.
What character do you play?
RP: Sonu, is this kind of “douche” guy who’s engaged to Rajveer’s cousin Reena, played by Noureen DeWulf. Sonu’s kind of an ass — the kind of character that’s always fun to play.
ND: Reena, a Toronto sports reporter who is very popular in the Toronto Indian community. Reena is also Rajveer’s first cousin and engaged to be married to Sonu.
VV: Rajveer Singh.
Describe your role and its significance to the overall plot?
ND: Reena’s pending marriage to Sonu is one of the subplots of the film. She is also the link between the Speedy Singhs and the movie audience as she helps to recap the tournament. Her introduction of Sonu to Rajveer adds major drama that ensues, since the two do not get along.
VV: Rajveer Singh is a second-generation Indo-Canadian. He is going through what many young people go through in their twenties. He’s lost and struggling to follow his own dream of playing ice hockey while living up to the expectations of his traditional family.
CB: Melissa is very knowledgeable about hockey because of her brother’s past with the sport. She is also a law student and ends up being the one person who can help the Speedy Singhs overcome certain racial prejudices.
What is your favourite scene in the movie and why?
RP: The prison scene is my favourite. It was fun to shoot and we got to do a little bit more with my character than what we originally envisioned for him.
ND: There is a scene where I get to play an über-fan of Drake’s and I run on stage and hug him for playing a song at my bachelorette party. Let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of acting going on. I’m a huge fan of Drake. That excitement was real!
VV: I love the introduction scene of the Singh family as they sit down for dinner. The conversation and banter between myself, Anupam Kher (my father), Sakina Jaffrey (my mother) and my little brother in the film, played by Kashish Suri, is something that all households, regardless of their cultural background, will be able to relate to.
CB: Filming the ice-skating Bollywood dance sequence was a blast. I’ve been a dancer my whole life and loved being able to learn a completely new style of dance.
Why should people want to go and see Breakaway?
ND: I think it’s a fun and sweet family film.
VV: It’s a feel-good movie. When was the last time a family was able to watch a film together and take their kids, parents and grandparents? There is something for everyone in this film.
CB: People will not only be entertained but will also learn about the Sikh culture, hockey, family and go on a triumphant journey with our main character.
What was it like working with such an international pool of actors, both culturally and vocationally?
RP: It was great to look around the set and see the mix of people who we had working on this movie — from a seasoned pro like Anupam Kher, to Rob Lowe’s star power, to watching Vinay Virmani lose his cherry in his first starring role as Rajveer Singh.
ND: Very exciting.
VV: It was such a cool experience. I learned so much from all these international talents. Each has their own distinct way of understanding their characters and scenes. It was amazing to hear their stories professionally and personally.
CB: It was wonderful. Everyone brought individual personalities to the set, which created an original and enjoyable environment.
Russell & Noureen: In what way(s) would you say that Breakaway is different from other South Asianthemed crossover films like Bend It Like Beckham and Monsoon Wedding?
RP: Those are both great movies that changed the way people see South Asians. They showed us and our families in ways that we’ve never really been shown before. Breakaway shows assimilated South Asian-Canadians and South Asian-Americans (my character, Sonu), in a new way as well — playing hockey, dealing with success and dealing with the lives that they want to lead, versus the lives that their parents want them lead.
ND: It’s about an Indian hockey team in Toronto! It is a sports family drama.
Vinay: This film marks your debut. Quite the platform I must say, with all the distinguished talent that has participated and that you have had the opportunity to work with. As the freshman of the bunch, tell me about your experience making the film.
We shot the film in 30 days so you can imagine how hard we all had to work. As tough as it was and no matter how long the days were or how physically exhausted I was from the hockey scenes, our spirits and enthusiasm never broke. And I think that’s because we loved the story we were telling to the world. The cast and crew from all different parts of the world learned so much from each other. As cliché as this sounds, we were all one big happy family on set. The relationships formed amongst us are now beyond the film. As the freshman, Anupam and Rob were very protective over me. And our director, Rob Lieberman gave me a lot of creative freedom to find the character. It was a very open working environment.
Camilla: This is the first South Asian-crossover film you’ve been in. Was the filmmaking process different in any capacity to that which you’re accustomed to in Hollywood? If so, how in particular?
The filmmaking process wasn’t exactly different to any other film I’ve made, although the Indian culture was very much alive on set. A very warm environment was set from the beginning by the producer, Ajay Virmani, and throughout the filming, I was able to try Indian dishes, listen to different types of music and explore a culture I was always interested in.
Breakaway is probably the only film in its genre of cross-cultural films to have left no stone unturned in terms of packing such a diverse punch — the romantic-comedy formula, critically acclaimed director, thespian actors/performers from both sides of the Atlantic, substantial well known cast, great musical collaborations (RDB, Ludacris, Drake etc.), music videos, merchandising and mainstream distribution. Clearly this movie is setting a new standard for bicultural crossover films in general, to reach a mass rather than niche market. What are your thoughts on there being more such films and their effect on diversifying the mainstream film industry worldwide beyond the Hollywood contribution?
RP: Producer, Ajay Virmani has put together a film that is commercial and doesn’t try to hide it. It was great to work with a Canadian producer who believes in commerce and in being successful, which you don’t always find in Canadian filmmaking. You make movies so that people will watch them and hopefully enjoy what you’ve done in them. Breakaway isn’t an “art” film, it’s a film for the whole family — not just South Asians or Punjabis — it’s a film for everybody.
ND: The film has very impressive ambitions and it is exciting to see all of this outside the studio system.
VV: I think it was a matter of time. We talk about globalization in the world of business so why not entertainment? I feel audiences are ready to see a world of international talent come together and tell a universal story.
Career — Past & Future…
I’m always curious about why people decide to take on the challenge of forging a career in the entertainment industry beyond the obvious perks once you’ve actually made it, being that it is such a volatile business and earning a stable living is far more difficult than most other industries. Looking back to the early days, what from your recollection was your driving force that kept you forging forward?
RP: I didn’t have a “Plan B.” I’ve always said that if I wasn’t doing stand-up, I’d be the funniest guy driving a forklift.
ND: My love for my craft.
VV: I’m still in my early days but there were times where I felt defeated or thought this really isn’t for me. But then this is the one thing in my life that I feel I could be great at, and more importantly, had the will to be great at it. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else than telling stories and playing interesting characters. I feel it’s this passion that will keep driving me forward.
What do you consider to have been your breakthrough moment — the one that gave you the belief that you could actually do this for a living?
RP: I believed I could do this from the first time I stepped on-stage and got a few scattered laughs from the audience. Even though I was terrible, those few laughs kept me motivated to keep doing stand-up.
ND: West Bank Story, [is] the first film I starred in, that [also] won an Oscar, so I think that was a pretty big breakthrough moment for me.
VV: My breakthrough moment has and always will be being a part of Breakaway.
If there was one moment you could erase from your career, what would it be and why?
RP: There’s really nothing that I’d change. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been booed off-stage, I’ve been criticized for my material — but that’s life. All of those things should make you stronger and make you work harder — they made me who I am today. If it comes too easily or too soon in your career, you don’t appreciate it.
ND: I’ve seen pictures of a few of my red carpet looks and wondered what compelled me to make certain wardrobe or hair choices. Oh well.
In your opinion, what do you feel that people entering this business should know about that you believe cannot be taught, but rather, has to be learned through personal experience, so it’s best knowing this going in?
RP: It’s not a race. There’s no finish line. Take your time.
ND: There is a fine balance between complete humility and complete confidence which is necessary in this business.
VV: Have a thick skin and get ready to be critiqued. When we enter this business of performing for audiences, we have to be ready to be openly judged. Also, when auditioning, get ready to hear all sorts of things about yourself. But remember, it all makes you stronger and for me, has led to me becoming more comfortable with who I am as an actor and as a person.
CB: This business if full of rejection, therefore, one has to have a lot of confidence and truly know that this is what they want to do. Passion is necessary along with a drive to succeed.
What, if you had to pick, would you say is the single greatest thing about being in this industry?
VV: Telling stories that people can be moved by.
CB: This industry does provide many incredible life opportunities, and I have to say — I have been very fortunate. I’ve been able to work all over the world and receive the best education from those travels.
If you had it all to do again, would you still have chosen to be in the entertainment business in your current capacity?
RP: Absolutely. It’s who I am.
If you weren’t an actor/performer, what do you think you would be doing today?
ND: Probably a therapist as I am very interested in people. Hearing their problems would make me feel more normal.
VV: I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. This is it.
CB: Food is my second passion, so I believe I would have been in the restaurant business in some capacity.
What are you working on right now that people should know about?
RP: A new sitcom, a Christmas special, two new movie projects and a new stand-up series for Showtime.
ND: I have a film called Taqwacores about American Muslim punk rockers that premiered at Sundance Film Festival and I am very excited and proud of it.
VV: I feel it’s such an exciting time to be South Asian right now, especially as an actor. We have a world of opportunities open to us, and mainstream films and shows are now beginning to reflect the true make up of society. I am currently reading a few scripts and they are all from different parts of the world.
CB: I just finished a film called Open Road. It is a Brazilian/American co-production and is very much a character piece.
When and where should we expect to be able to check it out?
RP: The sitcom, who knows? I’ve been working on getting a sitcom going for the past six years now. Hopefully one day we’ll get something on the air. The Christmas special will air in December on CTV and the movies will be shot sometime over the next six months.
ND: It just opened wide in the UK.
Me, Myself & I…
What is your greatest personal achievement and why do you consider it so?
ND: My career because I have worked very hard for every bit of it.
VV: Graduating university. There were times where I was ready to give up but I stuck to it, and getting an education is something I can always be proud of, and will encourage all young kids to do.
What do you deem to have been your most challenging personal experience that you’ve managed to overcome?
RP: The death of my father.
ND: My ethnicity in Hollywood.
VV: I was a very shy kid. Throughout school and my teens, I was easily intimated by others. I had trouble speaking to groups of people or in classrooms, and I think that’s because I could never find my voice. By that, I mean, find myself and be comfortable with who I am and what I believe in.
How did you overcome it and what did you learn from it about yourself?
RP: I threw myself into all of the new opportunities that came to me and just went for it.
ND: I am constantly overcoming it, one job at a time.
VV: It started by taking small steps and challenging myself. From talking to new people and trying a new thing everyday, to reading and writing down my thoughts. All these things helped me to just stop caring about what people would think about me, and we can only do that once we are in touch with ourselves and realize our weaknesses and strengths. But most importantly, my confidence came from my ability to write. In university, I feel I really found my voice. I worked hard on my skills as a writer and through that, I was able to formulate my opinions and learned the skills to communicate. That’s why I always encourage my younger friends to write.
How since, has it changed your life for the better?
RP: My career skyrocketed immediately after my father died. I still feel that he was the guiding force in all of the amazing things that have happened to me since his passing.
ND: I think I am known for playing a wide range of roles as opposed to a bunch of stereotypical ones, and I am grateful for the recognition of that amongst my peers and also my fans.
VV: Getting that confidence gave me the strength to write this film and ultimately, take on the lead role, which is the best thing to have happened to me.
If you had a choice to be anyone you could for one day, who would that be and why would you want to be them?
ND: Maybe Cleopatra.
VV: No one. I don’t want to be anyone else or live anyone else’s life.
CB: I would want to be Frank Sinatra for a day because of his talent and uniqueness. He’s been a favorite since I was a child and it would be fascinating to spend a day in his shoes and see what his personal life was really like.
Four words that best describe who you are today…
RP: Tired, transitioning, anxious, optimistic.
ND: Sore — just finished a workout with my trainer. Tired — just returned from my girlfriend’s wedding on a flight last night that was delayed 3 hours. Full — just ate a bowl of pasta for lunch. Grateful — always.
VV: Open, patient, real, me.
CB: Calm, curious, private, amusing.
Three of your most prized possessions…
RP: Not really possessions, but they are the most important things in the world to me: my family, my friends, my health.
ND: The lizards that live in a cactus in my front yard who sun themselves every day, a diamond necklace that my mom had made for me out of a pair of her earrings, my Ryan Miller “American Hero” t-shirt.
VV: I’m not really one to get attached to things, be it people, materialist things or even recognitions. Things come and go.
CB: Photos from my childhood, old family home videos, costumes from all the films I’ve made.
Two things you absolutely must do in this lifetime…
ND: Swim in the ocean and give something away that means a lot to me.
VV: Fall in love and take a month long vacation in Italy. Actually let’s combine these, fall in love during a month long Italian vacation.
CB: Open a restaurant and travel to Egypt to see the pyramids.
One part of your life that takes you to your Nirvana…
RP: Being on-stage slinging jokes.
ND: Making people laugh with a joke of my own.
VV: Being at home with my family.
CB: The future.
If there was a crystal ball in front of you right now, what would you want it to tell you about your future — career and/or personal?
ND: I’d want it to alternately blink HAPPY and SATISFIED.
VV: I wouldn’t want to know. I love surprises and the feeling of not knowing what’s to come, for me, is what makes life worth living.
CB: I actually wouldn’t want to know anything about my future…that would spoil the fun of life.
Finish this sentence: “I am…”
RP: “…looking forward to the release of Breakaway… winky-face!”
ND: “…onto the next!”
VV: “…just trying to be me!”
First Published in Fashion, Style & Holiday Issue, October 2011 Issue. www.AnokhiMagazine.com
Photography Courtesy of Breakaway Productions