South Asian community has been struggling to deal with Gang violence and South Asian youth involvement in it for quite a long time. Organizations and individuals have been working tirelessly to spread awareness about this problem.
Meet Jacquile Singh Kambo, a graduate of Capilano University, who too has made a unique contribution in raising awareness about this issue through meaningful cinema. His film “Help Wanted” tells the story that does not focus on the crime itself, but what the crime does to relationships. Kambo, the director and writer of the film, aims to rekindle the lost bonds between parents and children which he feels, is one of the major factors leading kids into gangs.
His passion for storytelling drives him to build connections and change perspectives. He feels Cinema is not just an art, but a universal language. “Using my voice, telling stories that need to be told is my passion,” he says. This is what inspired him to write and direct the award winning short film “Help Wanted”. The film focuses on South Asian gang violence and family struggles. He hopes the film can bring attention on reconnecting families and bring change in the homes of South Asian communities.
In an interview with Desi Today he talks about his film and his take on the gang violence.
Please tell us something about yourself and your family?
I am Jacquile Singh Kambo. I was born and raised in Coquitlam, and decided to pursue film and motion pictures at Capilano University. Fun fact, I was named after a famous basketball player. Being South Asian and Punjabi, many inspirations of pursuing film came from Bollywood, Hindi music and Punjabi music. Not many South Asians like Lilly Singh, Mindy Kaling, or Jus Reign were on the big screens as role models as many of us enjoyed Bollywood stories. Shah Rukh Khan and his films were something I looked up to growing up, he is an inspiration to many and the stories he tells have made an impact within family homes.
Why did you decide to make a film on gang violence? Was there any particular incident or a persona in your life that influenced you or it was just part of a culture that you saw around you?
I did not plan on making a South Asian short film as part of my final year in my Bachelors Degree. At the time I did not know too much about the violence in our city. There was a booklet sitting at home that came in the mail, “Youth and Gangs”, and I read it and the topic interested me. From there I started talking to community members who knew of the subject and did my research. The more I learned about youth and gangs the more I learned they were a lot like me; isolated, lonely and desperate for their parents’ love. This idea of wanting a connection but not having it, or needing to find it somewhere else instead of at home intrigued me. I knew there was a story here that needed to be told and it needed to be handled with love and care of its own.
How was the whole experience filming on this issue?
Filming our narrative, “Help Wanted” was a real treat because I did not expect doing a South Asian film as my first ever film. Because we were making the film under university, we were in a safe and controlled environment, working closely with the instructors and the cast and crew to tell an important story. A story we wanted to tell. A diverse cast and crew from different backgrounds, faiths and genders, were very excited to be part of this project. I felt like there was a shift in me, in regards to telling important stories and putting in hard work to achieve a vision that can be life changing. The more I thought about the film’s ideas and themes, the more I felt I was contributing to a greater good for the community. It also helped me open up in a lot of ways. It was a project that helped me define my voice as an artist and made me feel being comfortable in my own skin as an artist.
Now can you tell us more about the movie itself and what it highlights?
Help Wanted follows Pavan, a Punjabi teenager, gets involved in his local gang in order to support his fragmented family when his unemployed and abusive father fails to do so. When a drug deal goes wrong and tensions run high with his two-faced gang leader, Pavan must make a tough decision that could ultimately threaten his life and the family he has worked so hard to protect.
For us, it was important to tell our story that does not focus on the crime itself, but what the crime does to relationships. We wanted to make a film that felt real and familiar to those watching it, but still feel cinematic that would support the experience. We did not want to glorify or promote criminal activities, but raise questions such as “how can we tie the bonds between parents and children?”.
What is your take on the entire gang violence issue in South Asian community?
Gang violence is complex, I understand there are many perspectives when it comes to gang violence, as every household is different. It can also be a combination of both nature versus nurture; how you get influenced by your home, peers and environment too. But for me personally, I feel that it comes down to loneliness and the desire for parents’ love, even though it may not be shown on the outside. Parents are often busy with work or the community, or other families and responsibilities, and not have the time to make connections with their children. It’s how they can be good role models for their children. For me personally it was a long time before my parents asked me “How was your day?”, gave me a pat on the back or a thumbs up. I think these are big prompts that any parent can do to make connections with their kids.
A big part of this in particular is also young men not able to express their feelings. Growing up many are told not to express their feelings; to not cry, get angry or upset. And when they grow older their emotions are projected unhealthily in other places like violence or substance abuse and it reflects in their personal relationships. Pavan, our main protagonist, does not speak very much in the film, as he is a subtle metaphor for men not expressing their feelings.
Youth, young men or women, want to feel needed and I think it’s important to make them feel loved that way, it helps them engage in home activities, succeed in school, find better peer groups, but most importantly allow that there is a safe environment for open communication. Knowing that family has your back, through successes or failures, makes a difference.
Have you noticed any impact of the government-sponsored programs in schools about educating youth to stay away from gangs or movies like yours making a difference?
I am not too well aware of recent government sponsored programs within our community as of late. I do know that many community leaders are making the effort to have panels held in schools to talk about gang violence and educating our youth. I think this is effective because it opens up discussions about gangs. When community leaders invite members who used to associate with their gang to speak on their panels, youth are able to relate and identify with their stories more. Shared experiences, are personal and familiar. I also like seeing how there is access to educating parents and elders about the issue and what they can do for their children. It’s great to see them engaging in panels and taking part in taking action, it’s making a big difference, especially when it is available in different languages.
However, an area where we can do better is to create a safe space for our young men in our community to be vulnerable, to allow them to express their feelings and ideas. To teach them it is okay to not put on a mask or front as an alpha male figure or be the strongest of the bunch. This may help become their own influence, to creatively thrive and build stronger relationships around them. Perhaps this is a way that both men and women can respect each other in our community.
What is your message to the community and the youth who fall trap?
Whether you are a young man or woman, a parent, a friend or a teacher, asking “How was your day?” could make a big difference in someone who feels troubled by something. It helped me in my life to open up and be comfortable talking to other people about my personal troubles. It’s a great way to get a conversation going about anything, assuming the one listening, listens without any judgement. Again, knowing that family has your back, through successes or failures, makes a difference.