What is more unlikely, a Canadian actor playing the role of a rickshaw driver, or a rickshaw driver as the protagonist in a film?
Rupinder Nagra, star of Amal, debuting tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival, says the fact he was cast is more surprising.
Amal -the title character- is a working-class man whose life becomes conflicted when a billionaire names him as his heir. The film ultimately questions values, morals and personal growth. Directed by Mississauga native Richie Mehta, and receiving local accolades, Amal is on its way to becoming a blockbuster.
Filled with energy on the eve of the premiere, Nagra chats over a drink at the Royal York Hotel and reveals he read the script and signed on immediately. “The end really shocked me and actually challenged my viewpoint of success and what it means to me,” he says. “If I’m feeling that way, that’s so great –anyone in the audience will feel that way too.”
The film also stars Bollywood heavyweights Naseeruddin Shah, Seema Biswas and Roshan Seth. Working with them was, “basically like living in a dream.” Filming in New Delhi over the course of two months was a new experience for the actor. “In Canada, no one cares but in India everything stops,” Nagra says. Hundreds of people showed up each day. “It was almost like street theatre,” he says.
How does a Hamilton-bred Indo-Canadian portray a character as spiritually connected as Amal? Prior to filming, Nagra spent six weeks with an actual auto-rickshaw driver to prepare for his role.
Working as an Indo-Canadian actor is challenging, he said. Getting people to look beyond colour has not been easy. The streets were packed while shooting, and Nagra is hoping people show up at the box office, too. “People will like it, it’s a beautiful fable.”