When art meets life, so much of it is lost in translation

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Dr. Balvinder Singh, an pediatrician from India has come to the realization that in real life, unlike the reel one, courage and strength of character are the real currency for an immigrant. Photo by Bryon Johnson

Dr. Balvinder Singh, a pediatrician from India, now settled in Canada, has come to the realization that in real life, unlike the reel one, courage and strength of character are the real currency for an immigrant.
Photo by Bryon Johnson

Meet Toronto’s the Dr. Cabbie.

Three years ago, an Indian pediatrician and newly arrived immigrant to Canada found himself thrust in the glare of media.

Unlike a Bollywood film where his heroism would have seen him riding happily into the sunset, reality was something of a bitter medicine.

Here’s what happened: Dr. Balvinder Singh, 42, was on a Delhi –Toronto Air India flight when a woman went into labour. The Punjab native used scotch to sterilize the scissors. A sewing kit went towards clamping the umbilical chord of the newborn and the microwave was put to use to heat the blanket to swaddle the baby.

Akash Leen Kaur weighed seven pounds and made a somewhat dramatic entry into the world, some 11,000 metres above the skies of Kazakhstan.

In the days that followed, as reports of Balvinder’s deed spread, media from every corner of the world clamoured to interview him. Interestingly, he gave phone interviews to the press while plying his route as a trucker. The media had a field-of-a-day reporting the paradox of a fully qualified and experienced doctor driving an 18-wheeler in Canada.

Balvinder soon became the poster child for “Canada’s broken immigration policy,” except as with everything, this story too has many layers.

So, recently when the buzz around Dr. Cabbie intensified. I sought Balvinder out to see how his life had panned out since his 15-minutes of fame.

For those unaware, Dr. Cabbie’s plot revolves around how an Indian doctor turns his taxi into a mobile clinic when faced with rejection by the Canadian accreditation system. In the celluloid version, everything works out well for the hero. Our real life Dr. Cabbie has an entirely different story to report.

Few months into his new life in Canada, Balvinder became resigned to the fact that his life as a physician was over. So, he enrolled in a trucking course and cleared it with flying colours.

Most people would have been bitter about having to drive a truck when they ideally should be handling a stethoscope. But not Balvinder.

He told me he was fully aware when filing his papers that he would face an uphill battle finding a job as a physician. Like most newcomers, he immigrated to the country to provide better opportunities for his children.

A few weeks into his trucking job, Balvinder quit. Disheartened, but not discouraged, he applied for jobs in the clinical research area and worked briefly in the field, but his contract was not renewed because of lack of funding. So once again he found himself at the crossroads.

“I was a misfit as a trucker,” he said. “I was physically not fit for it and the hours were difficult for my family as my wife was working two jobs and there was no one to take care of my children. Last year, I applied for 70 jobs, but I did not get a single interview. Since my priority has always been my family, I don’t regret or feel disappointed about working as a security guard or a trucker.”

He then trained to become a security guard.

“The worst thing in life is staying at home doing nothing. I couldn’t do that,” he told Toronto Desi Diaries.

He was briefly dejected when he did not receive a single response from prospective employers, but he did not give up. He continued to work as a security guard. Then six months ago, he and a friend started a foot-clinic. He still continues to work as a security personnel, occasionally.

Big Bang Theory actor Kunal Nayyar arrives in a cab at the music launch of his first film, Dr. Cabbie. Photo by Claudio Cugiliari.

Big Bang Theory actor Kunal Nayyar arrives in a cab at the music launch of his first film, Dr. Cabbie.
Photo by Claudio Cugiliari.

Balvinder has been knocked-down several times in life, but he retains his sense of humour and positive attitude. He’s an inspiration.

“I have enjoyed fame, success and money,” he said. “All I can tell you is that it’s lonely at the top…”

Getting accredited as a physician in Canada can be frustrating because even though most foreign-trained professionals clear the exams, they are up against the wall when it comes to finding residency. There aren’t enough spots and the ones that are available are offered to Canadian students who undergo their MD training abroad. According to a new study, only half of international medical graduates in Canada are currently working as doctors. The rest are languishing in survival jobs.

In the study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, researchers found in 2011, 1,800 applicants competed for 191 residency spots designated for foreign-trained physicians in Ontario, but only 55 per cent of these graduates ended up working as physicians.

Balvinder admitted to being curious about Dr. Cabbie and vowed to check it out.

“When you see it (film) from the perspective of past, it’s easy to chuckle,” he said, “But while you are going through it, you will literally feel the pain. I will still say, challenges are part of life and I can’t blame Canada for my life because we opted for the greener pastures… Canada is a land of opportunities, but you need time to cash in on those opportunities.”

 

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Kunal Nayyar’s warm personality makes Dr. Cabbie a must-see

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Dr. Cabbie is a Canadian film featuring Kunal Nayyar, Isabelle Kaif and Vinay Virmani, set to release, Friday, Sept. 19.

Dr. Cabbie is a Canadian film featuring Kunal Nayyar, Isabelle Kaif and Vinay Virmani, set to release, Friday, Sept. 19.

My day job allows me to meet and chat with politicians, musicians, artists, newsmakers and on rare occasions, an odd criminal or two.
I have had my share of interactions with jerks that lug around a sense of entitlement like dandruff on black shirts, to ego-less entities with absolutely no trace of arrogance.
Kunal Nayyar, 33, definitely falls into the latter category.
Some weeks ago, when I sat down with the rising stars of Dr. Cabbie, a Canadian movie with liberal dose of Bollywood, I was naturally excited to snag one: one interviews with the movie’s three actors — Kunal, Isabelle Kaif and Vinay Virmani.
As an avid fan of Big Bang Theory, I wanted to meet Kunal, aka Rajesh Kootrapalli, so I could tell him his portrayal as a socially awkward nerd in the CBS sitcom elevates the show’s comedy metre to lofty levels each week. The meeting/interview also gave me exclusive bragging rights in the newsroom where every single reporter/editor and photographer is a die-hard fan of Kunal and BBT.
Kunal enjoys mega celebrity status here and elsewhere. Canadians love him and his show. Who hasn’t chuckled at Raj’s antics, especially the hilarious side effects of his selective mutism, an anxiety disorder, because of which his character can’t talk to women unless he’s all liquored up.

So, coming back to the media launch of Dr.Cabbie, I reached the downtown hotel 35 minutes before the appointed hour, but there may have been few no-shows from some news outlets, so my interview was moved up. Before I could collect my wits or gather my notes, I was facing Kunal who despite his exhausting schedule, greeted me with a real smile (the kind that reaches the eye) and introduced himself.
He was the real deal. He answered questions I threw at him with sincerity and self-deprecating humour. A few moments into the talk, It became pretty evident that Kunal doesn’t lug “star” baggage. He had no airs.
Here’s the interview Toronto Desi Diaries (TDD) had with the Big Bang Theory star. Kunal spoke about his role in Dr. Cabbie and briefly, just so briefly, touched upon Canada’s immigration system. So, I suggest y’all brew a cuppa, sit back and read on.

TDD: Did you say “yes” to Dr. Cabbie because your character was the opposite of Raj in Big Bang Theory?
KN: I love playing Raj on Big Bang, It’s a dream come true for me to be on the show. So, when I had time off in the summer and I was looking at movies, the script (Dr. Cabbie) came up on my agent’s desk. One of the things I have been telling everybody is: I want to play a character that’s different from Raj because I am a trained actor and I thought it would be fun to spread my wings and show the world I have many different facets.
So, it was fun to play a cab driver whose centre of gravity is way down. Someone who heckles women and shows-off his chest hair, drinks, eats and lives life with reckless abandon.

From L to R: Isabelle Kaif, Kunal Nayyar and Vinay Virmani, as they arrive for the music launch of Dr. Cabbie in a yellow and red cab. Photo by Radhika Panjwani

From L to R: Isabelle Kaif, Kunal Nayyar and Vinay Virmani, arrive for the music launch of Dr. Cabbie in a yellow and red cab.
Photo by Radhika Panjwani

TDD: Was it a challenge…?
KN: Every summer, when we get to the first table read (for Big Bang), I always worry I have forgotten how to act. I think every actor goes through that. You are sitting there wondering, “Hope, I haven’t forgotten to be funny.”
The truth is: The writing is so good that as soon as you begin to say the words, it flows into you. The writing — for eight seasons of Big Bang has been consistent — and that’s so rare.
TDD: How was your experience in Dr. Cabbie different from that of the Big Bang Theory in terms of the set?
KN: For Big Bang, we shoot in front of a live studio audience in the Warner Brothers Studio. All the sets are built on the stage. With Dr. Cabbie, we shot a lot of stuff all over Toronto. So, it was fun because we would be driving along the streets in this cab with a camera on us shooting a scene and people would wave at us. In Big Bang, you were in a closed environment whereas in Dr. Cabbie we were exposed to the elements and the cities of Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton.
TDD: The film showcases the immigrant experience, were you able to identify with the struggles of the characters?
KN: I have lived the immigrant story. I moved to the U.S. when I was 18.
Will the movie deter people from filing their papers to Canada? I am not sure. I hope what people actually take away from this movie is: things don’t always go according to plan in life. They don’t. Life takes a U turn. There’s no blueprint or secret formula. Stuff happens and ultimately, it’s about how you pick-up and move on. One has to live life with a big heart and be willing to do anything to realize their dreams…

TDD: How’s your family reacting to your venture into films?
KN: My family is very proud. It’s very easy to become complacent in this industry. I never want to be a victim of that. I want to work as hard as I can and do as much as I can.

Next up: Toronto Desi Diaries’ up, close and personal meetings with the other two cast members of Dr. Cabbie —Isabelle Kaif and Vinay Virmani and my chat with a real-life Dr. Cabbie/trucker – Dr. Balvinder Singh.