Tarsem Singh Dhandwar Returns With India-Set Toronto saga ‘Dear Jassi’

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Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, the filmmaker previously known simply as Tarsem, is returning to the big screen and to his roots with “Dear Jassi,” which has its world premiere Toronto Film Festival Sept. 10.

The new film is set in the 1990s and based on a real-life incident. It follows Indian origin Canadian Jassi (Pavia Sidhu), who on a visit to her ancestral village in Punjab, India, falls in love with Mithu (Yugam Sood). They commence an epistolatory romance but familial objections, with the threat of terrifying consequences, get in the way of their love.

Dhandwar rose to prominence through commercials and music videos. Dhandwar previously directed films “The Cell” (2000), “The Fall” (2006), “Immortals” (2011) and “Mirror Mirror” (2012). His last feature film was “Self/less” in 2015, and he directed NBC series “Emerald City” (2017). The filmmaker hails from the Punjab, but “Dear Jassi” is his first film set in India.

“I’m just known for visual films that are fantastical. If you look at [“Dear Jassi”] it is actually very, very classically shot. I didn’t want it to be about fantasy,” Dhandwar said. “When the event happened 23 years ago, I told my brother that we make this movie right now or we wait for two decades. [Either] it’s got to be at least retro, or it has to be timely. So, we waited because then suddenly ‘The Fall’ happened.”

“Dear Jassi” is written by Amit Rai (current Bollywood hit “OMG 2”). “I told him the structure of the story. I told him, it’s like, if you imagine that [Michael] Haneke or Gaspar Noé wrote a script, and it gets directed by one of the Iranians. I said, it’s like a really hardcore subject, but the Iranians don’t show the graphics of it, they will just step back and they will make a big drama out of a small thing and this is how it ended up being,” Dhandwar said.

The filmmaker identifies the heart of the film as a cultural and immigration problem. “It’s been there forever, that the moment people arrive in a new country, [they are] such outsiders [and as a consequence] grab at any cultural straws that [they] have, that will keep [their] community together, no matter how evil, how old, how good, they just grab them, like a drowning person,” Dhandwar said. “You forget what the problems were there, you go abroad and then start singing on how great things were back home, they were never that and [moreover] that area back home has now evolved.”

The notion of home that immigrants have left behind becomes a romanticized and idealized one, Dhandwar says. “When they come to India, they will be shocked at how liberal the Indians are compared to how they are. And that’s been true of Irish, of Punjabis of everybody, that the people who get out are the ones who would then glorify how things are back home without really having a complete picture of how things are back home. And that interested me,” Dhandwar said.

After Toronto, “Dear Jassi” will play at the BFI London Film Festival and there are plans for a theatrical release in India. The film is produced by powerhouse Indian studio T-Series alongside Wakaoo Films and
Creative Strokes Group. Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Vipul D. Shah, Ashwin Varde, Rajesh Bahl, Sanjay Grover and Dhandwar serve as producers.

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