South Asian LGBTQ members to march loud and proud in Toronto’s 2018 Pride Parade

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Two male members of the South Asian LGBTQ community exchange traditional flower garlands as part of a photo shoot.

Haran Vijayanathan (L) and Humza Mian (not partners) are both members of the South Asian LGBTQ community in Toronto. The two recently participated in a photo shoot directed and styled by Saira Hussain from Breath of Henna & The Sai Lens. The initiative was a joint collaboration with Must be Kismet Bridal Show & Magazine. Photo by Banga studios

Happy Pride Month

In this guest post, Mita Patel, a blogger for Must Be Kismet, a South Asian Bridal Show and Magazine, in Toronto, talks to two desi gay guys who gamely became models for a photo shoot celebrating LGBTQ members in Toronto

Guest blog post by Mita Patel

Every once in awhile a project comes along that shakes up our ideas of what a traditional wedding looks like.

Sons of Roses is a bold and inspiring project that brings to light themes of love, union, marriage, and inclusivity.

Haran Vijayanathan and Humza Mian (who are not together in real life), agreed to participate in the photoshoot as two grooms in a traditional, yet non-denominational, South Asian wedding.

The stunning shoot was directed and styled by Saira Hussain (Breath of Henna) & The Sai Lens and was a joint collaboration with Must be Kismet Bridal Show & Magazine and other artistic vendors. Abhirami Balachandran and Angel Glady, two members of the South Asian LGBTQ community, also participated in the project, portraying friends of the grooms on their wedding day. Check out the entire shoot at www.mustbekismet.com.

Two men wearing traditional Indian wedding clothes surrounded by two women wearing flowers in their hair

Models Haran Vijayanathan (sitting in the front) and Humza Mian are members of the South Asian LGBTQ community in Toronto. They participated in a photo shoot by Must Be Kismet, a desi bridal show, and magazine. Also seen in the photo are Abhirami Balachandram and Angel Glady. Photo by Banga Studios.

A desi wedding set in Toronto worthy of the divine

Traditionally in the South Asian LGBTQ community, marriage hasn’t always been an option, due to stigma or lack of family support. Thankfully this is changing, and there are plenty of examples of parents supporting their children who wish to get married and come out to the broader community.

Haran, who is the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention and an outspoken advocate, says that coming out was difficult but that he is grateful for all the support he received. “My mom and sisters were accepting and still are,” he says. “I am blessed to be accepted by family and all the support they give me for who I am and what I do.”

This Saturday, June, 23 Haran will be the first Sri Lankan, Tamil speaking man to be a grand marshal at Toronto’s Annual Pride Parade. He will be marching alongside his mother and sister. His hope is that others in the community who are struggling with reconciling their religious or cultural identities with coming out will feel more supported and a little less alone by seeing someone similar to them represented.

On the topic of marriage, Haran says that his preferred wedding would be a simple affair without a lot of pomp and pageantry.

“My wedding would entail some great Indian/Sri Lankan food stations in a huge outdoor field with lots of mini lights lining the perimeter on stakes with a dome of lights as well,” He said. “Lots of music, very few speeches, and people just having a great time with us and us with them. People would be dressed in simple Indian outfits and just have nature bless all of us with the stars shimmering in the sky, the slight breeze of the wind rustling the leaves in the trees and gently cooling all our guests.”

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Abhirami Balachandram and Angel Glady, members from the South Asian LGBTQ community seen here in a photo shoot – Sons of Roses. Photo by Banga Studios

Manghoe Lassie in the land of Maple trees

Humza, who identifies as queer, is a veterinary technician by day and a popular drag queen by night. His followers on social media know him as Manghoe Lassie, and his vibrant personality and love of his craft radiate through his pictures and videos.

He is partially out to his family – his sisters and cousins know and support him; his parents and aunts and uncles do not yet know. He believes that coming out is an ongoing process and not the same for everyone. Above all, individuals should feel safe and emotionally prepared in their choice to come out.

Humza envisions a wedding in his future, that may not be traditional or in line with his Islamic faith, but one that includes his friends and family.

“I would love to have a traditional wedding, however, this will likely not happen,” says Hamza. “The process of coming out for queer people of color is ongoing and for some of us, it will never be a reality. I have come to accept this and I am actually OK with it (no really, I am!) and will make the best of my wedding with my friends and chosen family.”

A gay prayer: just as powerful

Both Haran and Humza consider themselves religious and take great solace in the tenets and practices of their faith.

Haran, like many Hindus, has a mandir in his home and does pooja twice a day in honour of the deities. He appreciates the many gods and goddesses in Hinduism and the way in which this ancient religion considers people and spirit and life as fluid and ever-changing.

Humza, a practicing Muslim of Pakistani descent, enjoys attending Khutbah, a formal occasion where an Imam preaches and conveys the teachings of Islam. He says that the principles of his faith that are most important to him centre around being a good person and service to others.

Sons of Roses aims to spark more discussion about queer weddings and help to create healthy conversations at home. It is one thread in the fabric of our collective stories of union and marriage that shows how love moves us to transcend all differences.

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Haran Vijayanathan and Humza Mian, both members of the South Asian LGBTQ community seen here as models for a photo shoot Sons of Roses. Photo by Banga Studios

Must be Kismet team involved in the photo shoot included:

Art Director, Stylist: Saira Hussain from Breath of Henna & The Sai Lens Photographer: Banga Studios Decor: Rose Events and Floral Beauty (makeup and hair team): SS Glam Studios, Daniela Suppa, and Makeup by She. Jewelry: Jaya and Co. Wardrobe Vendors: Chandan Fashion, Sahiba Fashions, Lotus Bloom Official, Live the Collective

 

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Brinda Muralidhar explores tangled ties in her debut film Knot Not!

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Dilip Krishnamurthy (Mohan) and Jessica Seigner (Patricia) filming a scene of Knot Not! in Mississauga. The film recently made its Canadian debut.

The making of a movie

Theatre, acting, stage and spotlights are entrenched in Brinda Muralidhar’s DNA.

So, having her debut film, Knot Not! premiered recently to a packed house, was Brinda’s ultimate homage to her Indo-Canadian roots.

The 1 hour 44-minute film about values, parental pressures and seeking ones identity, boasts an impressive line-up of local artists, most of who are relatively unknown, but bursting with potential.

Knot Not! is about what happens to your family when the parents are not on the same page,” Brinda explains. “In so many cases, one parent is tied down to the rules while the other doesn’t give a damn.”

And that’s how the film’s title came about: one parent is committed to preserving the knot of the marriage, while the other is not.

The premiere in Brampton was a sold-out one. This shows there may be a yet-to-be captured market for entertaining stories told from a hyper-local perspective

Shot in the GTA, Knot Not! has original music scored by Vinayak Hegde and Deepak Sant. It’s produced by Brinda’s soul mate/husband – Gunny, who’s also the cinematographer. Incidentally, it was Gunny, who came up with the idea for the film. Since communication at the Muralidhar home is unconventional, Gunny enacted his idea in a short one-minute narrative. Brinda was sold. She took on multiple responsibilities: director/screenplay/dialogues/editor and watched the idea grow and grow.

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Suniti Santosh (L) and Dilip Krishnamurthy in Brinda Muralidhar’s Indo-Canadian film Knot Not!

What’s Canadian film without a winter scene filled with snow, eh? Jessica Siegner told me one blustery winter day, Gunny and Brinda showed up at her Mississauga home after Ma Nature deposited some significant quantity of white stuff. They shot a particularly beautiful scene, framed against the beautiful backdrop of the Marilyn Monroe towers in Mississauga. I guess, it can’t get more Canadian than that.

The film showcases among other things, the stark contrast of family values from a desi’s perspective versus a Caucasian’s way of thinking.

Before this final version of Knot Not! there was an earlier one that was nearly 80 per cent ready, but Brinda and Gunny had to shelve the earlier version and re-shoot it all over again. Talk about teething troubles.

Initially, Knot Not! was supposed to be a 30-minute short film, but it took on a life of its own. This meant, the Muralidhars’ budget was shot to hell.

Brinda jokes the film’s finances are courtesy, “Bank of Muralidhar.”

The credentials

Brinda’s father­— Ramachandra Rao— was playwright and director, while her uncle (father’s older brother) M.V. Narayan Rao was a well-known stage and cinema artist/producer.

Canada however proved to be a fertile soil for Brinda’s artistic mindset because since she moved here, she has kept busy with more than a dozen stage productions in Kannada, English and Hindi. Brinda launched her film production company 1CanMedia Creations in 2013.

When the Muralidhars invited talent to audition for their film, they received dozens of responses. Brinda says she hated rejecting anyone because of a philosophy she inherited from her dad.

Her dad apparently would pluck an unknown, but eager artist from the neighbourhood to polish their rough edges and turn them into a brilliant theatrical gem.

Brinda says while shortlisting her actors to play Patricia’s role, Mississauga’s Jessica didn’t almost make it, but she had second thoughts and invited her to audition.

“As soon as Jessica walked into the room and said ‘hello’ to me, I knew that was the girl…” Brinda said.

Brinda said she started fleshing out the characters based on her actors as opposed to asking them to slipping into her vision. Dialogues and backstories were carefully crafted to include the artist’s mannerisms.

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Jessica Seigner (Patricia) and Dilip Krishnamurthy (Mohan) in Brinda Muralidhar’s debut film Knot Not!

Knot Not! Who’s there?

The film is about Mohan (Dilip Krishnamurthy), a South India arrives in Canada as an international student. In school, he befriends Patricia Smith (Jessica Siegner) a Canadian who guides him through his search for his identity.  Mohan’s parents Srinivas and Padma want their son to wed Lakshmi (Suniti Santosh), the beautiful daughter of their friend Bhaskar (Nat Pennathur).

Mohan does not want to meekly follow the path paved by his father, instead with Lakshmi and Patricia’s help Mohan discovers himself.

The film journeys through many plots and subplots and through comedy, drama and insightful scenes unties the tangled web of human relationships.

 

October’ 16 events in Toronto are filled with Navratri and Diwali celebrations

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Dhamal Masti Group (DMG) will host a Navratri event, Oct. 1 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. Photo by Bryon Johnson/The Brampton Guardian

Saturday, Oct. 1

Event: Dandiya Dhamal

Details: DhamalMasti Group (DMG) will host its annual Navratri celebrations at the Hershey Centre, 500 Rose Cherry Pl. in Mississauga from 7 p.m. until midnight. Cost of tickets is $20/person and can be purchased at the door.
Contact: Here

Event: Mere Sung Gaa
Details: Head to Cineplex Entertainment, 110, Courtney Park Dr., Mississauga for a karaoke contest. Championship open to South Asians between 11 to 60+ (There are various categories.
Contact: Here

Event: Navratri Gujju Garba
Details: Ami Modi and Pratik (vocalists) will perform at David Suzuki Secondary School, 45 Daviselm Dr. at 7 p.m. for a garba/dandiya event hosted by Suravali Musical Group. Cost of tickets is $12/person (advance) and $15 at the door.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Oct. 2

Event: Sadhana
Details: Pratibha Arts will be collaborating with Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps Dance Series for this performance series, taking place at the Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto.
Contact: Here

Friday, Oct. 7

Event: Monster Rock Orchestra
Details: With the far-out sounds of a rock band and classical instruments of an orchestra, the unconventional Monster Rock Orchestra (MRO) will deliver rock and pop hits from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today at a spectacular free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square at 7 p.m.
Contact: Here

Friday, Oct. 14

Event: Diwali Raazmataaz
Details: Indo-Canada Arts Council is bringing Diwali celebrations to the “Square.” Event will have elements of Dandiy, Dusherra and Diwali and takes place at the Celebration Square in Mississauga at 5 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Oct. 22

Event: Kardoon Kamaal
Details: A Diwali dance/dinner concert featuring many local artists will take place at Shingar Banquet Hall, 2084 Steeles Ave. E. Brampton at 6 p.m.
Contact: Here

Thursday, Oct. 27

Event: Piya Behupriya
Details: Soulpepper Theatre, will present Company Theatre’s (India) Piya Behupriya (Twelfth Night) Oct. 27 to 29. Amitosh Nagpal has translated the work of Shakespeare into Hindi. Since it was introduced at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, England, this Hindi musical adaptation about romance, mistaken identity, love and unrequited love has wowed the audience world over. Show will take place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto.
Contact: Here

Note: This is just a few of Navratri and Diwali events happening in the Greater Toronto Area this year. There are lots of others happening, unfortunately, given the resources, It was impossible to list them all.

 

The maverick behind the Bollywood Monster Mashup reveals the secret sauce

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Vikas Kohli (centre) with the Bollywood Monster Orchestra. Photo by Jamie Espinoza

Have you noticed how animated some folks become when describing the antics of their child or a pet?

Picture that enthusiasm and multiply it with an outrageously high number to understand how invested Vikas Kohli is with the Bollywood Monster Mashup (BMM), an annual three-day festival in Mississauga, that he started six years ago.

(Wow, did I just use a Math metaphor?).  He also owns and runs FatLabs, a recording studio in Mississauga.

“I couldn’t have predicted how popular this festival has gotten in six years,” Vikas told TDD recently. “We continually have first-time performers in Canada, in fact, we’re at a stage where we’ve multiple headliners talking to us about wanting to be at BMM. People in Bollywood actually know about the festival now. How cool is that?”

 Sound castles in the air:

For some months now, Vikas, the artistic director of BMM and an award-winning composer, has been furiously working on arranging the music scores for the orchestra portion of BMM Finale concert.

The orchestra will deliver fusion sounds that combine old Bollywood songs with western influences.

“People often ask me, where can they find the band that played at BMM and I tell them, it doesn’t exist,” Vikas said adding, each and every musician that’s part of orchestra was handpicked and invited to perform at the concert.

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The string section of the Bollywood Monster Orchestra will play several Bollywood hits fused with other influences. Photo by Chris Scaini

On Saturday, July 23, the Bollywood Monster Orchestra and Mississauga Pops wind orchestra will deliver a number of retro Hindi songs with powerful string section and blend it with original scores created by Vikas’ musical sensibilities.

Vikas’ influences range from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz to hip-hop, metal and of course Bollywood. So, the sounds you hear will be unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Imagine arranging dozens of scores for a single event and then as the evening ends, the notes too disappear, never to be heard again.

“We create signature acts every year and no other festival does this,” Vikas said. “It takes six months of work and rehearsals to do this. I not only pick the songs, but also decide what kind of instruments to have on the stage. Then, I sit down and make musical charts for all the musicians.”

Once the band is assembled, they run rehearsals. That’s a lot of work for a free event.

The BMM Orchestra (Symphony Nights) on the main stage will include a traditional, classical European-string section delivering rich and beautiful sounds built on some evergreen Bollywood hits. We’re talking a 55-piece wind orchestra and 13-piece string one.

The three elements of BMM festivals:

  1. Artist debut in Canada: So far, all the headliners of the BMM for the past six years have admitted to Vikas afterwards about how bowled over they were by the euphoria and the vibe of the crowd. For these artists making their Toronto debut, that’s a big deal.
  2. Cross-cultural offerings: The BMM has done an exceptional job of fusing South Asian culture with mainstream, whether it’s tap dancing, orchestra or performances by dance ensembles. This year, Culture Rock, a Toronto group will wow the crowd with Bharatnatyam, waacking, hip-hop and more.
  3. Comedy Show: For the past couple of years, humour has been a staple of BMM. This year’s event in Brampton was just what the doctor ordered, a barrel of laughs.

For more information visit here.

 

Anarkali’s lead actor Kiran Rai basks in the show’s success

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Kiran Rai, who plays Anarkali, the lead actor in hit web series by the same name, also edits the episodes. Photo by Baljit Singh.

Behind the scenes of Anarkali

Through the making of two seasons of Anarkali, Rakhi and Kiran learned a ton of lessons.

Their guerrilla-style filmmaking: shooting each episode, spending hours editing it and then uploading the edition on YouTube, though not terribly efficient, was effective.

So, after the success of the first season, Rakhi and Kiran Rai (KayRay) decided on a more organized approach. Instead of flying by the seat of their pants, they shot and edited all of the episodes of season two in advance. Then, they confidently announced a date for the season opener.

Except, few weeks before the D-day, the hard drive crashed.

So, they scrambled, yes, guerrilla style, to meet the deadline. Ah well.

KayRay as Anarkali

Kiran Rai or KayRay has studied film, theatre and television and film making and was doing this and that, when Anarkali catapulted her into the stratosphere of success.

This Bramptonian incidentally also happens to be social media celebrity. Her video blogs (kayray) have more than 1 million views and she has racked up some 37,000 followers on Instagram.

Kiran believes the web series’ success can be traced to its honest narrative. We all know truth has its own unique taste, but telling it needs a bit of chutzpah.

“There was a lack of images and stories in our community about the truth behind brown women’s lives. We told it honestly and that’s why it’s a success,” Kiran says. “Even in Bollywood, the stories are more in the realm of fantasy than a reality. The stories told in Bollywood are not authentic to our experiences…”

“People are hungry and they want more (content that reflects their lives),” she continued. “People that watch Anarkali are not just young women, but men, queer folks and everyone else as well.”

Kiran’s stock as an actor appears to have risen exponentially with the show’s success. People are now offering her roles that have a bit of meat whereas, before, she relied on making her own films and starring in them to show off her versatility.

A trip to L.A. some years ago, convinced Kiran, she should dive into the deep end of acting, instead of dabbling in it.

“There weren’t enough people my age doing it (acting),” she said on why she was hesitant before. “Everyone around me said, acting wasn’t realistic and that I wouldn’t be able to make a livelihood, instead, I should do it as a hobby…”

Once she decided to pursue acting, Kiran signed up at an acting academy in Toronto to learn the trade.

Armed with all her knowledge, she then decided to make short films and start her own YouTube channel – kayray.

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Some cast members of Anarkali, a popular web series. L-R: Mandy KayBee, Gavan Anand, Kiran Rai and Seth Mohan. Photo by Baljit Singh

So far, this year, Kiran has been trying something new in front of the camera every day as part of her “Never Have I” series.

But, Anarkali has and will continue to have its own special place in her life.

“I have so many similarities with Anarkali,” she says. “Anarkali is a beautiful character who’s trying to find herself and she (like me) lives in a diaspora where two different cultures are constantly clashing. It’s nice to be able to resonate with someone that’s so much like the women around me.”

Kiran often gets ambushed on the streets by hard-core fans demanding she give up her foolish fantasy of getting together with Prince. It’s almost as if they have no clue that the web series is a work of fiction.

“I guess fans want to know why Anarkali is so hesitant to make the right decision (when it comes to her true love),” she said. “I think it’s almost as if they are asking themselves the same question, but through me…”

This is the conclusion of our two-part series.

 

This Jabra’s rap song about the Toronto Raptors is a slam-dunk

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“Take a seat and enjoy the Masai Ujiri show. I got the black and gold on me like I’m OVO. I put the 6 on my back like I’m Cory Jo,” raps Rajan in his viral video that pays homage to the Toronto Raptors.


When talent fuses with passion, the alchemy becomes amazing.

Want proof? Meet, Rajan Gahunia, 21. His anthem, a musical ode, to the Toronto Raptors has gone viral and created a literal frenzy.

Every hoopster addict out there (yours truly included) will undoubtedly experience a surge of adrenaline when they watch the slick  – Northside Since 1995.

“This song is 100 per cent from the perspective of a fan,” Rajan told Toronto Desi Diaries. “It’s my dream to perform (the jam) at the centre court (at ACC). I want to tell people they should dream big and that dreams do come true…”

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Rajan Gahunia, 21, a Toronto Rapper’s video Northside since 1995 is creating more than a buzz. Supplied photo.

Rajan, a fourth-year television and broadcasting student at Senecca College, dropped the single four days ago. The track has since garnered some 25,000 views on YouTube and 80,000 “likes” on Facebook. This, after Raptors’ guard DeMar DeRozan, gave a shout out to the song by re-tweeting the video to his 459K followers.

T.V analyst Leo Rautens, Sportsnet, Metro News, Huff Post, you name it all give their thumbs up to the aspiring rap musician who doesn’t want his music to fit into “a box.”

It has no doubt been an exciting and exhilarating few days for the 21-year-old. He says the plan is to build on the current success.

The genesis of the video came about few weeks ago as Rajan and his dad–both hardcore hoop fans– were watching the game. His dad suggested an anthem may be in order.

“I loved the idea of combining my two passions: music and basketball,” Rajan said. “My brother made the beat which I liked. I didn’t want the song to be too corny. I wanted  lines that people could sing or chant…”

Chant they will as Raptors head to the playoffs.

“It’s not everyday you see a Desi rapper, but my dad believes in me and appreciates the hard work I put into my music,” Rajan said. “It’s my dad’s blessings that has all made this possible. I am thrilled my music is getting all this attention and just as thrilled to see the smile on my dad’s face.”

Growing up Rajan’s dad enrolled him in the Vince Carter Basketball Camp. He says he didn’t have an aptitude, but his love for his hometown team has remained steady and unwavering.

Northside since 1995 took about a week to produce and about three days to edit.

The crowning point of Rajan’s young existence may have been when during a meet-and-greet autograph session, he came face-to-face with his favourite Raptor: DeRozan. He rapped him a sample verse.

The #10 asked him if the music was his, shook hands and told Rajan, “Amazing, man, good luck with that…”

The Raptors have ended their season on a high note with a new franchise record (56-26) and will face the Indiana Pacers. Rajan admits he can’t afford the pricey tickets. Who can? The only way he can watch the game is to cheer his team with his anthem during the half time slot perhaps?

C’mon, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), give this “Jabra (fan)” a chance.

 

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Rajan Gahunia, 21, a Toronto Rapper’s video Northside Since 1995 is creating more than a buzz. Supplied photo.

 

 

 

 

Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani/Canadian eh? Jake

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Jake Dheer, a prominent desi and well-liked community member. Supplied photo

Jake Dheer, a prominent desi and well-liked community member. Supplied photo

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s right. Welcome to this edition of Toronto Desi Diaries (TDD) where we shine the strobe lights (drum roll, please)— on the well-liked and well-known Jake Dheer, Senior Operations Manager for Rogers Television (Cable 10).

Jake talked about his childhood, spirituality, love of his life (hint: he has more than one), relevance of hyper-local news, success and more. In the interest of space, I have just picked a few.

Some months ago, Jake, one of his colleagues and I were the sole occupants of a media table at a gala event. Our table was wedged between the sound system and the back wall.

At one point during a tedious speech, Jake nonchalantly broke into a song (fortunately, no one could hear his rendition of the slightly off-key Hindi song). Suffice to say, the evening was anything but boring.

Then dinner was served and our table became the VIP one because Jake knew the banquet manager, the wait-staff and everyone else that actually mattered. Dessert was this gooey mouthwatering chocolatey concoction Jake refused because the sweet was garnished with a mound of marshmallows (ingredients include animal protein) him being the staunch vegetarian.

So, let’s rewind the film on Jake’s life, shall we?

 

Jake Dheer, senior operations manager, Rogers TV seen here with former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. Supplied photo.

Jake Dheer, senior operations manager, Rogers TV seen here with former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. Supplied photo.

Childhood: The celluloid version
Jake’s parents, Ramesh and Gulab, moved to Uganda from Moga (Punjab) shortly after Jake was born however he stayed in India with his grandparents and joined them when he was eight years old. In the early ‘70s when Idi Amin, the dictator, imposed his economic war agenda, the Dheers fled and arrived in Kitchener, Ont.

Jake’s father, a civil engineer, was a visionary businessman. He purchased a theatre and screened Hindi movies on weekends.

“Since my parents were busy eking a livelihood, they did not have time to enroll me in swimming or guitar lessons,” he said. “We children basically fended for ourselves and developed a sense of independence that included me taking on a paper route.”

Kitchener was where the filmmaking bug bit him. Since the theatre was a family affair, Jake was privy to the world of celluloid through osmosis. He wrote and created posters, cleaned halls, manned the concession stand and occasionally became a projectionist.

That theatre also allowed him to get front-row seats to cinema and watch Dev Anand cavorting around trees and Amitabh Bachchan single-handedly beat the bad guys into a pulp.

“I saw how films brought the people and community together,” he said. “I also learned some invaluable business lessons and life lessons from my father. Things like art of persuasion and people management that one can’t learn in any management school.”

Besides Bollywood, Hollywood giants like Steven Spielberg and Francis Coppola influenced the teenager who happily straddled desi and Canadian cultures with ease.

Spirituality: When karma met dharma
When video killed the theatre, Jake joined a national video chain and managed their store. That was his first real job. This led to other sales gigs like selling ads, water filtration system, managing a restaurant and more. All jobs required people skills, something that Jake has in spades. He was hardworking and a quick learner. So, he steadily rose up the ranks.

Then, in 1990, after the restaurant franchise he worked for closed shop, Jake decided to visit India. He had not been to the country of his birth for 21 years. He travelled to the foothills of the Himalayas and lived with his grandparents in a remote village.

“God puts people in your life so you can learn from them,” Jake says of his visit. “The village where I lived had no access roads and it was in a deep valley. Having nothing much to do, I began to read the Bhagvat Geeta (an ancient Indian spiritual text). I had so many ‘aha’ moments. “As I read and understood the words, many things fell in place. It all made sense. I realized your karma is important and once I do my karma, I have to leave the rest to God.”

Jake reads the sacred Hindu text every week. Not just that, he incorporates the principles in his personal and professional life.

Love: What a feelin’
The other equally significant “Geeta” in Jake’s life is his wife of 22 years.

Jake and Geeta’s love story is filmi to boot. So as the story goes, Jake’s parents wanted him to get married and on their trip to India checking out potential candidates, they met the youngest daughter of a family friend they liked and hoped Jake would too.

So, Gulab and Ramesh shot some video footage of the girl and mailed it to their son for approval. When the cassette arrived, Jake set the unopened envelope beside the figure of a deity in a temple in their home.

A month later, the would-be groom, flew to India for his arranged marriage. In India, during a rainy monsoon July, Jake recalls travelling in a palanquin (usually reserved for the bride) through the Himalayan foothills to reach Geeta’s house for the wedding.

Decked in wedding finery and weighed down by a heavy garland with a pendant of Lord Krishna that reached mid-thigh, Jake’s procession set-off. A few kilometres down the road, the groom desperately needed to pee. He whispered his dilemma to a cousin who led him behind an outcrop of rocks and asked him to do his business.

The task was easier said than done because the pajama (chudidar) Jake was wearing had drawstrings that needed some expert maneuvering. Then, the hapless chap had to hold the heavy garland and lift it out of the way of the stream of urine. And above everything, there was the fear of passersby chancing upon the odd sight of an awkward groom trying to relieve himself!

BTW: This incident was way funnier when Jake described it.

Anyway, when Jake finally laid eyes on Geeta—during the ceremonial exchange of garlands — he was smitten. With a wink and thumbs up to his father, he continued to perform the rest of the rituals with a happy grin.

Jake fell hook, line and sinker with his bride with whom he had not exchanged a single word.Jake and Sonia

“I was overwhelmed by the fact that here was a girl who was willing to travel thousands of miles to be with a man she didn’t know and to live with him in an unfamiliar world purely based on the act of simple faith,” Jake said. “I knew then that this woman would stand by me thick and thin. I remember thinking; who am I to judge anyone’s outer beauty when their inner beauty is so pure and radiant?”

Note: Jake teared up when he spoke about Geeta. Jake incidentally has another love – Canada. He loves the country to bits. “Where else can you get the best of both worlds—India and Canada and embrace both,” he asks. “This country allows you to do both, I love Canada for that.”

Over the years, Jake has received many awards, accolades and recognition for his role in media and his  extensive community activism. He was the Mississauga Citizen of the Year in 2005.

Jake lives in Mississauga with his parents, Geeta and their two children, Sonia, 20 and Arjun, 14.