Balinder Johal, our very own Vancouverite who has been a part of the film industry for 25 years and Mummyji to Bollywood hunk Randeep Hooda in Deepa Mehta’s latest movie Beeba Boys discusses the film, gangs in the Metro and more with Almas Meherally for VISAFF – Bollywood and Beyond.

Q: How did Beeba Boys come about for you?

A: Deepa Mehta was making this film five years ago. She sent me the script at that time and cast me in it as Mummyji. Unfortunately, the cast did not work for her at the time. Deepa is not one for compromise. Then in February last year, I received an e-mail in which she said, “Balinder I am making Beeba Boys. Will you be interested to be Mummyji?” I was in Fresno at the time, working on another feature film but I replied right away that I will be honored to work. Then she sent me the revised script with Randeep Hooda as the lead and as my son.

Q: What was it about the film that attracted you in the first place?

A: More than the film, it was more attractive where the offer came from. Deepa is considered to be one of Canada’s finest directors. Her trilogy Fire, Earth and Water are well known. She was Oscar nominated for Water. So working with her in any film is always an honor and a moment of pride. I had also worked with her in Heaven on Earth as Preity Zinta’s mother-in-law. So second time around, I felt doubly blessed. She had written a powerful role for Mummyji.

Q: Tell us a little about your character in the film.

A: Family circumstances have shaped Mummyji into a domineering matriarch and a wise woman. She is not blind to what’s going on. She knows where her son is heading; what is going to happen to Jeet (Randeep) and the rest of her family – her grandson Peter (Samir Amarshi), and her husband (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). Her journey is a roller coaster ride of so many emotions – love, fear, happiness, sadness, anger and disgust.

Q: What do you think of the gang violence in Vancouver?

A: Gang violence in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland has taken the lives of so many people. So many young people are lured into this lifestyle. Young minds don’t think too far. This is an easy way of making money. As Jeet says in the film, it’s not the turf, but what the turf gets you – power, money, respect and style. What they don’t see is that this is a short-lived life style. Gang violence has taken almost one hundred and fifty lives in our community. All these young men were someone’s sons, brothers; some were even married and had children. So all these families will never forget what happened to their dear ones.

Q: Tell us your thoughts on Bollywood hunk Randeep Hooda? How was it playing his Mom?

A: I was in India when his film Highway was running in theatres. I went to watch the last show in Patiala. I wanted to see the man who was going to be my son in Beeba Boys. It goes without saying the film was great and so were the actors in it.

Let me share an anecdote with you. I had gone to Toronto for the workshop before the start of the movie. Deepa called me to ask me if I would like to join them for a party that one of her friends had thrown for her. She told me that I would get the chance to meet Randeep informally. So I went. When Randeep came, I went to him (he did not know who I was) and I told him that I didn’t think I needed permission to hug my son and gave him a hug. We were connected from that time and still are like mother and son. Most of my scenes in the film are with or about him and he is a great person to work with. We had a very good relationship. Working with him was equally an honor and a great experience for me. He is very genuine, helpful and supportive. So Randeep Hooda was my son to me and not a Bollywood hunk.

Q: How was your experience working with Deepa Mehta?

A: I have worked with Deepa before too. Heaven on Earth was my first film with her. In the film my role as Maaji was a negative one. That role gave me a Leo Awards nomination. But Beeba Boys’ Mummyji is totally different from Heaven’s Maaji. So when a director of Deepa’s calibre called me a second time, I was overjoyed but a bit apprehensive. I wanted to do the best for her. She is a great taskmaster and she always knows what she wants in each scene. Now that it is done, there is a feeling of satisfaction that I’ve been able to do what she wanted. She is very good in rewarding as well. One day I came back home and saw a bouquet of 48 roses and lilies waiting for me on the kitchen counter. The note on it said, “We are very proud of you. What a beautiful performance. Well done. Much love David and Deepa.” This was for Beeba Boys.

Q: As an actor, what part of the film did you find most challenging?

A: When I work on a role like this, the challenge for me is not any particular scene, but how I can be that character and lose my individuality and become that person. In Heaven on Earth, I became that mother-in-law who was hated by all the viewers and some of them mistook my role for my real self, which is a compliment. In Beeba Boys I am the embodiment of all those mothers, who have lost their sons in this bloody gang war. They are breathing but not living and I dedicate this role to all those mothers who are and will bear this pain and stigma for the rest of their lives.

Q: Could you put some light on the struggles of an actor in our film industry?

A: This industry is highly competitive. Most of the actors in Hollywood North are struggling all their lives. More true of us Indo–Canadians. That is because we do not have our own storytellers, our own directors and producers. Hollywood stories are written for Caucasians and we try to fit in. In addition, this is one industry where your previous credits do not count. What you bring to the audition table is what counts. They look at your credits after they like what you did in audition.

But working hard pays off. I have come to a place where roles have been extended or written for me. There are scripts lying with me, in which I am already cast. I have also received several awards from the mainstream industry and from our community. I do not say this to show off, but if I can do it, you can do it too!