Winnipeg filmmaker gets personal in TIFF short film ‘Strong Son’

By | September 14, 2020

A Winnipeg filmmaker’s heartfelt short film starring his father is one of only a handful being screened at a scaled-back Toronto International Film Festival on Monday.

This year’s TIFF is unlike any other. Just 50 feature films and 35 shorts are being aired, a fraction of those screened in previous years.

That means the competition to get airtime was even more fierce — and means Ian Bawa’s screening is more notable.

“Strong Son” is set at a gym as a father, played by Jagdeep Singh Bawa, watches his son work out. As he watches, the elder Bawa critiques aspects of his son’s life, including his relationships, his body and his obsession with working out.

“Women like men with strong legs. Strong legs mean a stable home,” the father says in the film.

Ian Bawa’s father Jagdeep Singh Bawa starred in ‘Strong Son.’ (Submitted by Ian Bawa)

Bawa says lines like that play off of the relationship he has with his dad and reflect his insecurities, their cultural traditions and his difficulty in upholding those traditions.

“I have two older sisters who are much, much older than me. They have kids and families. I am the male of the family. I’m the youngest. And there’s a lot of pressure to get married, to hold the name, to be kind of the man,” he said in an interview on CBC Radio’s Weekend Morning Show on Sunday.

“There’s this idea that I can be wealthy, successful, be on stage at the Academy Awards one day and my dad will be just as proud of me, but I am not winning unless I am married with a kid.”

Bawa admits he tried to hide away his Indian heritage when he was younger, worrying people wouldn’t think it was cool. He says people would sometimes make fun of him for his ethnicity.

Screening his short film is an opportunity for Bawa to connect with and celebrate his identity in a way he hasn’t been able to do before.

Mandeep Sodhi, an Indian bodybuilder, played what Ian Bawa calls the “extreme version” of himself in his short film ‘Strong Son.’ (Submitted by Ian Bawa)

“It’s been just this eye-opening revitalization of what it means to actually own your identity, own your culture, be yourself that I’ve been fighting with for so long,” he said.

Even today there are very few mainstream films representing South Asian people, he says, but that’s slowly changing.

“I walk into a room sometimes and I look around and I say, ‘I’m the only brown guy, what’s what’s going on here?’ But as of late, I will step into a room and see … I’m not the only diverse person here,” Bawa says.

“I’m seeing a shift, I’m seeing a change in the last few years, and and it’s good and it’s healthy.”

WATCH | The trailer for Ian Bawa’s film ‘Strong Son’

The film is an effort to open up to his audience.

“What I’ve learned is that the more vulnerable you are in your art, the more people will respond to it. I thought it was a film for me, cause it was about me, but in fact, it’s a film for everyone,” he said.

Although Bawa’s father isn’t very interested in the film industry, he is excited about the buzz his son’s creation is garnering.

“He is loving that he’s getting attention and I’m getting attention and this is a father-son thing.”

Bawa’s film and many others are screening on Monday at 6 p.m.

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