Indian filmmaker Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, renowned for his visually captivating music videos and fantasy films, made a remarkable return to the cinematic world after eight years at the Toronto Film Festival. His latest creation, “Dear Jassi,” delves into a chilling true-crime narrative set against the backdrop of love, class, and murder in 1990s Punjab.
This movie marks Singh’s maiden foray into filmmaking within his homeland, India. In an interview with AFP, the director revealed that he had patiently waited for the opportune moment to bring this story to life. Over two decades ago, the 62-year-old filmmaker first encountered the real-life saga of star-crossed lovers—a Canadian-born girl from an affluent Punjabi family crossing paths with a rickshaw driver during a visit to relatives in India. The idea stayed with him throughout the years.
“I called my brother and said, ‘We must either tell this story right now or wait at least two decades for it to become retro.’ This was not a subject matter that could be resolved quickly,” he disclosed to AFP.
During that period, Singh had already established his name in Hollywood, earning recognition for his ethereal music video for REM’s iconic hit “Losing My Religion,” which clinched six MTV Video Music Awards in 1991, including Video of the Year. He subsequently directed Jennifer Lopez in the sci-fi horror film “The Cell” (2000) and other notable works like “The Fall” (2006), the Snow White-inspired “Mirror Mirror” starring Julia Roberts in 2012, and “Self/less” featuring Ryan Reynolds in 2015.
Yet, the heart-wrenching story of Jassi and Mithu remained a lingering aspiration on his creative agenda. An encounter with screenwriter Amit Rai, who was deeply passionate about the story, took place just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a screenplay.
Singh made a deliberate decision not to cast well-known stars in the film. Pavia Sidhu, portraying Jassi, had some prior acting experience, while Yugam Sood, in the role of Mithu, was a university student making his screen debut.
“They wanted me to use someone from Bollywood. They wanted me to make it in Hindi,” Singh remarked. “But I insisted, ‘It has to be like this.’ (…) It’s in Punjabi, and it’s intimate.”
Dear Jassi at the Toronto Film Festival 2023
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