New Delhi, 30 Jul 2022 12:41 IST
Amrinder Gill’s directorial debut humanizes the struggles of early migrants in British Columbia.
The directorial debut of Punjabi singer-actor Amrinder Gill, Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya, is a story of Sikh migrants in Vancouver and their struggles in the early 20th century. Inspired by true events and written by Amberdeep Singh, the Punjabi-language period drama captures the hardships faced by migrants in search of a livelihood in foreign lands. The film stars Amrinder Gill, along with Sargun Mehta, Sydney Eberwein, Binnu Dhillon, Karamjit Anmol and Raj Kakra.
Around the year 1908, when India was still under British rule, there was an influx of immigrants to British Columbia. This influx prompted a move to relocate the migrants to the colony of British Honduras. This is the historical context of Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya, which imagines the struggles and hardships of early Sikh migrants to foreign shores.
Set in the colonial era, when zamindars were the lords of the land, money was dear and labour iwas paid for in rations by the masters, Chhalla (Amrinder Gill) realises that he needs to get out of the village to make something of himself. He sets out for Calcutta and goes on a voyage to Canada. There he finds work in a sawmill and is put to hard labour. There is a clash of cultures as the men encounter a snow-laden landscape, completely alien to what they have ever seen or known.
Despite working harder than the white people, the Indians are exploited. As someone who understands English, thanks to growing up along with the zamindar’s son, Chhalla reveals this to his co-workers and informs them about this exploitation and wants equality. But no one supports him. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing as the white workers oppose Indians working on their land. The film then shifts gears and concentrates on village life and how Chhalla’s exposure leads him to initiate changes in the village.
Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya is an ambitious film in its scope and its attempt to narrate this historical struggle is commendable. There are several elements that are praiseworthy. A lot of care has been taken to bring out the historical era through sets, costumes and production design. The dialogues are witty, the humour is entertaining, and the camaraderie amongst the workers is heart-warming. There is even a social message woven in for equality and gender rights.
However, the story lags in the middle, especially with Chhalla’s return to the village where the film seems to forget what happens in Canada. It is the sweeping scope of the film that is its undoing as it tries to pack in too many things. Nonetheless, the climax is powerful and a testimony to the valour and hard work of early Sikh migrants. One wishes that the narrative was tighter and more focused to truly make this a compelling film.
This is an important piece of history. One that deserves to be told.