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Re-living the Komagata Maru tragedy

Ajit Jain | November 17, 2008 19:53 IST

Vinay Virmani

Deepa Mehta's forthcoming feature film, Komagata Maru, starring Akshay Kumar [Images], will also star newcomer Vinay Virmani, 23. A graduate of the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute of New York, Vinay will play the pivotal character of Mewa Singh.

The film deals with a real life incident when Canadian authorities did not allow 376 Indian passengers to de-board the Japanese Komagata Maru ship in 1914, thanks to their then racist laws. After a month of struggle, the ship was finally turned back. Many died due to starvation. More trouble waited for the survivors when the ship reached Kolkata, resulting in more death.

Mewa Singh was a young Sikh, who was enraged by the injustice and duplicity he and other Indian passengers on board Komagata Maru were subjected to. He assassinated Willliam Charles Hopkinson, who was the principal conspirator against the passengers.

Mewa Singh was sentenced to hang for his crime. He's considered a martyr and hero by Indians around the world, who commemorate his death anniversary on January 11.

"It is a great honour for me to be given this character role by Deepa Mehta and Akshay Kumar, two great legends who have come together to undertake the making of this historical movie on the Komagata Maru tragedy," Vinay said. "This will be my first film but I am confident as during the last three years, I have been getting all kinds of training, including physical training.

"I have done a lot of research on Mewa Singh as well as the 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy," he added. "It is very important for me to understand what was going on in Canada [Images] during that period."

"The arc of Mewa Singh's character begins as a young man of innocence filled with hope, and ends with an enranged man transformed by anger into a seeker for justice," says Deepa. "I wanted a fresh face to render this role and after much consideration, I selected Vinay. He's talented, eager and passionate -- qualities that are essential for the young Mewa Singh. Mewa Singh is a significant character in the film. His contributions and sacrifice were a true testament to the human struggles for freedom. Mewa Singh was one of the bravest Sikhs of his time. I am confident Vinay will do justice to this great humanitarian.

"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 Deepa.

Meanwhile, Akshay stated that he had sign the film because of its subject. "[The subject] has moved  me, as it is a true representation and a testimony to human struggles for freedom, justice and equality," Akshay says. "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."

This film is being co-produced by Hamilton-Mehta Production in association with Akshay Kumar's home production, Hariom Entertainment. It will go on the floors next September, and will be filmed around the world.

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