Big Picture: Craigdarroch Castle turns into little India

It’s amazing what a Bollywood movie star will do for her art, something Mandy Takhar just demonstrated at Craigdarroch Castle.

Clinging for dear life onto a ledge outside its Tower Room before being grasped by red turbaned co-star Diljit Dosanjh wasn’t just acting, quipped the British actor of Punjab descent.

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“That really was terrifying,’ said a smiling Takhar between deep breaths after doing her hair-raising scene as Jasmine, the heroine in the Bollywood romantic comedy Sardaar Ji.

“I thought it looked easy when I saw the stunt guys doing this,” she said, holding her harness attached to cables lowered from an off-camera crane.

When she completed a challenging take with Dosanjh, whose character Jagi grabs her as she dangles and sways, it’s no wonder director Rohit Jugraaj and crews broke into applause.

While the model and actor has starred in several Bollywood movies, she said this is her favourite because of her collaborators and its offbeat subject.

Specific details are being kept under wraps, but the film reportedly delivers a Bollywood twist on the Patrick Swayze romance Ghost.

“Everyone’s really professional. It’s so nice to be associated with that calibre, and you learn things like you can do your own stunts and hang and be scared,” the Mumbai-based actor said.

Sardaar Ji is the eighth film White Films Production Inc. has filmed in Canada, said producer and founder Sunny Sidhu.

“This is the film’s climax,” said Sidhu, whose Richmond-based company specializes in productions for the international Punjabi-language market.

“We’ve shot seven films on the mainland and this is our first step into Victoria which is a very interesting place to cheat. It looks like England.”

Aside from Craigdarroch, masquerading as a haunted castle, filming will continue at Ross Bay Cemetery, outside the legislature and downtown before the cameras roll in England and India.

And, yes, said Sidhu, there are the kind of musical production numbers audiences have come to expect from Bollywood, and not just the big, expensive Hindi-language spectacles.

His production partner, Dave Dillon, said they worked as line producers for Bollywood productions shot in B.C. before making their own with specialized Canadian crews catering to foreign films.

“It has become a fashion with Bollywood now that the more foreign content you can show, the better,” Dillon said. “The audience is enchanted by the beauty of B.C. and we have tried our best to show that.”

Sardaar Ji is the third Bollywood film shot here within the past two years and industry sources say there are more to come. The industry’s potential has grown so much that Premier Christy Clark just appointed Arjun Sablok as special envoy for film to India to promote further production of Indian projects in B.C., including Victoria.

While there are less investment funds available for Punjabi-language films than the Hindi spectacles, White Hill’s films are distributed wherever the language is spoken, Dillon said.

The foreign content “just brings out that flavour for those who haven’t been abroad. It quenches their thirst with all these nice buildings, scenery and so on,” he said.

Dillon, who once managed AM 1550 and 1600 radio stations in Vancouver and produced Punjabi news on Channel M, has also worked on Hollywood productions.

Since Bollywood films such as Sardaar Ji are made with smaller budgets and crews, however, flexibility is essential, and dialogue and locations often change on the spur of the moment.

“If I’m the production manager, the next minute I could be the janitor or helping out with food. At the end of the road, we have to be ready to fill in any of the blanks,” said Dillon, who also appears on camera. In this film, he plays a bearded Muslim grandfather who won’t be ignored. Last time out, he was a Canadian cop who trains a counterpart fresh from India.

John Hughes, executive director of the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society, said the differences between a project such as this and a Hollywood production are striking.

“The crew is amazing,” said Hughes. His senior staff is on hand to move precious artifacts and deny access if necessary during filming in areas including the west side of the drawing room, the library, the second-floor landing and the south lawn, setting for an elaborate wedding.

“They’re particularly laid-back and respectful of the space. And I don’t have to tell them to slow down in the hallways,” Hughes said.

For Darshan Mann, a Vancouver-based stage actor and south Asian women’s activist, Sardaar Ji is different from anything she has done.

“For me, it’s fun, an experience,” said Mann, wearing a rosy pink, peach and coral-coloured Salwar Kameez “suit” and elaborate gold jewelry.

Mann said she’s glad she is playing a key character’s mother rather than the imperilled heroine dangling from that tower.

“That is a role I would not play, not even for a million dollars,” she said, laughing.

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