Ian Bawa, local filmmaker and University of Winnipeg grad, is showing a new short film Strong Son at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month in its combined digital and in-person format. While Bawa has had a film in the festival before, this year, the film stars his father, Jagdeep Bawa, and local bodybuilder Mandeep Sodhi.
“I was so surprised when I saw that it comes out so very well,” Jagdeep Bawa says. “When you are shooting (Super 8), you can’t look at the picture. When you are shooting another movie, you can look at the picture. I was pretty impressed with his direction.”
Ian Bawa says he calls it “a dramatic autobiographical film, (because) it’s about me. It is literally everything about me (and) masculinity, about the idea that men hide their emotions a lot of times.
“The character in the film is physically strong, (but he also) needs to be emotionally strong to take care of his dad. That’s something I have to still deal with. I’m a gym-goer myself. I suffer from a lot of body-image issues, and you look at other people, and you’re like, ‘damn.’”
Sodhi is Ian Bawa’s alter ego in the film and heightens this question of masculinity and performance because of his muscular figure.
“I was working on a show, and one of the guys on the show was Mandeep, the bodybuilder, and he was one of my lighting guys,” Ian says. “He was so jacked. I would look at him and (say) ‘wow, you’re the better version of me. Your legs are so strong. They are huge. Look at mine, they are so tiny, (and) you actually speak (your ancestral) language.’”
Sodhi’s character navigates the complexities of South Asian culture and expectations of masculinity, while also demonstrating the emotional strength necessary to support his father. Ian Bawa also navigates this conflict in real life, which inspired him to make the film.
“There are many lines in the film that are true. Like, ‘My son is very strong. He started going to the gym when he was 16’ – that’s true. ‘He works on his arms the most. He’s very proud of his arms.’ That’s an inside joke. He says ‘he needs to work on his legs,’ because I have skinny legs, and people always make fun of me for them.”
Strong Son is the third in a trilogy of films starring Jagdeep Bawa, including Trevor’s Turban and Missing Toes. Ian and Jagdeep are starting to develop a feature film based on Strong Son.
The film was originally shot for the WNDX festival’s One Take Super 8 Event. Without the ability to do a post-production edit, they had to shoot their scenes in order. All they could add before the screening in 2019 was Milos Mitrovic’s soundtrack and Jagdeep Bawa’s voiceover.
Due to COVID-19, TIFF has transitioned to a combined digital and in-person format and a smaller selection of films, which means that people all over the world can tune into TIFF programming. Strong Son will be screened twice during the festival and will be eligible for the Short Cuts awards for Best Film and Best Canadian Film. Watch Strong Son on Sept. 13 at 11 a.m. or Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at tiff.net.