Deepa Mehta plans to make an ambitious film on the 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy that demonstrated the racist policies of the then Canadian Government. Toronto-based Hamilton-Mehta Productions announced that Mehta has already signed Akshay Kumar to play the lead. Talks are also under way with various actors, including Hollywood A-listers.
"This is an important opportunity for me to reveal a significant moment in Canadian history and illustrate the steadfast bravery of the Sikh community, who sacrificed so much to help create a more tolerant community within my adopted country," says Mehta.
"I am not used to working with Oscar-nominated directors so it is a great privilege to work with Deepa Mehta," Akshay says. "The film's subject has moved me, as it is a true representation and a testimony to human struggles for freedom, justice and equality. I want to portray this real life tragedy to the world identifying how injustice was done to innocent people. It is an honour for me to play one of the bravest Sikhs, Gurdit Singh, in this tragic forgotten moment in history. I salute those brave souls, who sacrificed their lives for justice and equality."
Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship that carried 376 passengers, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. It tried to dock in a Vancouver port but was denied permission due to a racist law called Continuous Journey, which was put in place by the then Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Robert Broden. It required ships to make a continuous passage to Canada for eligibility to dock and for passengers to disembark.
After several days of impasse between the police and the passengers, the ship was asked to turn back. Several people died on the way. But that was not the end of the ordeal. When the ship reached Kolkata, there was another problem with the local police, resulting in more loss of life.
"That [the continuous passage to Canada] was virtually impossible as ships could not make a continuous journey from any South Asian or Southeast Asian country without stopping at least once to refuel and restock supplies before reaching Canada," New Democratic Party member Penny Priddy explained. She had moved a motion in the House of Commons requiring the Canadian government to issue an official apology regarding this tragedy.
Prime minister Stephen Harper recently offered an official apology but it was done from a public platform in Surrey (British Columbia), which was in close proximity to the 1914 tragedy. But many local Sikhs protested, as they wanted an apology to be issued in the House of Commons as such an apology forms part of the official record, part of the history and not an apology from a public platform.
It is not clear whether Mehta's film on this historical tragedy will portray all these developments though a press release stated that the film will 'reveal this high level government intrigue, duplicity, racism, spying, military engagements, court battles, sedition and assassination.'
The film will be co-produced by Akshay's production house, Hariom Entertainment, and will cose approximately $30-35 million.