'Breakaway' comes from real life
The inspiration for Breakaway, a comedy about an unlikely team of Sikh-Canadians set to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, came -- as some of the best ideas do -- straight from Vinay Virmani’s own life experience.
“I sat down and wrote from my heart and that’s all it was,” said Virmani, who also stars as the movie’s hero, Rajveer Singh, who assembles a team called the Speedy Singhs when he can’t get a spot on a team due to racism.
Members of the Speedy Singhs (left to right): Al Mukadam, Prem Singh, Vinay Virmani, Rup Magon and Ali Hassan. Members of the TIFF gala movie Breakaway met with the Star at the Roots store on Bloor St. Richard Lautens/Toronto Star
After finishing acting school in New York, Virmani said he returned to Toronto but couldn’t find a script or a role he liked.
“My dad said one thing to me, he said, ‘write something for yourself and see what happens’ which is amazing because that’s the advice I got in acting school which was ‘hey, write your dream role,'" Virmani recalled.
“All the Speedy Singh boys, I’ve grown up with boys like that. . .an oddball groups of guys that had played hockey and had a desire to play hockey but because of some racial barriers in the game and opposition in their own households could never play,” he said.
Getting the movie made over the last two years, which includes casting comedian Russell Peters and actor Rob Lowe, “was full of challenges, ups and downs, emotional heartaches, times where, hey, maybe the project may not even happen,” Virmani said.
“I think in the last two years, I’ve grown up about 10. But hey, it’s made me stronger. In the film business, you’ve got to have a thick skin,” he added.
Cast (and team members) had similar life experiences, including Ali Hassan, whom the team brings on board to add some much-needed muscle.
“My best memory of hockey as a kid is not even the hockey, it was my father driving in the dark and going ‘these sons of bitches don’t respect anybody’s schedules.’ He hated me playing hockey because of the (early) hours and having to get me at the arena,” said Hassan, who also has a role in another TIFF film with a hockey theme, Goon, though not as a hockey player.
Rup Magon, a singer who’s sold more than 2 million records in India, had to take three weeks of intensive training for the role.
“No excuse, because I was born in Montreal, I should have known how to skate,” Magon said, adding he lost 20 pounds during filming and now skates regularly.
Magon also understand one of the film’s central conflicts, a traditional Sikh father who doesn’t want his son to play hockey so he can join the family business.
“When I told my father I wanted to be a singer, it didn’t go down very well because he didn’t want me to struggle. So this movie is about. . .that disconnect that parents have with their children because they already have some conception of what they want (their children) to be and then they realize that they’re completely and entirely different people,” Magon said.
Al Mukadam, who plays the team’s goalie, grew up playing hockey at Toronto’s west end Swansea Arena.
“What initially attracted me is the (concept) of a bunch of Indian Sikh guys and you juxtapose that with the all-Canadian sport of hockey and they don’t just naturally fit together,” Mukadam said.
“Being on the ice for 15 hours a day in full equipment was rough. But. . .being able to hang out with these guys, who I met for the first time on the set, we’ve kind of bonded like soldiers in a unit or something like that and we really become very close and I look up to these guys as my big brothers now. So we’re good buds and I think we will be for a long time,” he added.
-- Bruce DeMara