July, 2020

Supinder Wraich: Narrating heart-wrenching story of crime

Supinder Wraich is the Indo-Canadian actor born in Chandigarh, India and raised in Toronto. She has amassed a significant body of work in several film and television productions including Hunter’s Moon, Textuality, The Border, Degrassi: The Next Generation (CTC), Saving Hope (Ctv), etc. In addition to acting, her 2014 Music Video debut for Imran Khan’s PATA CHALGEA has garnered over 36 Million YouTube views.

 These days she is seen in her web series THE 410, about a South Asian female lead who turns to a life of crime to bail her truck driver father out of prison. The show, which she wrote and stars in, is available on the CBC’s streaming service CBC GEM for free. The story deals with a serious issue of drug trading across border and how Indo-Canadian truck drivers get into it. The series gives us a closer look into the lives and emotions of the families of these truck drivers, who too go through emotional trauma once their family member is involved in a crime like this. In this interview with Desi Today, Supinder talks about her inspiration for this series.

 Supinder found her passion for performing at the young age of five when she would happily put on a skit for her friends and family. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts, Supinder’s love for the arts would continue to tug at her leading her to enroll in the Advanced Film and Television Program at Sheridan College, focusing on Writing and Producing. While studying at Sheridan College, Supinder became a part of the Sawitri Theatre Group, an award-wining, incorporated not-for-profit South Asian theatre organization, based in Mississauga. Ontario. It was Sawitri that pushed Supinder to pursue acting as a profession.

 Her first big break came when she was cast in the Emmy award-winning web series Guidestones. This role resulted in her win for Best Performance in a Program or Series Produced for Digital Media at the 2015 Canadian Screen Awards.

 Outside of acting and filmmaking, Supinder loves to cook, read, watch plenty of movies and TV, as well as staying active by hiking and running. Understanding the importance of philanthropy, Supinder supports causes that are close to her heart.

 Alongside her family, she gives back to Seva Kitchen, an organization that provides free food to the hungry while promoting the values of Sikhism.

 Can you shed some insight on the The 410 and what viewers can expect from it? 

The 410’s story centers around Suri (Surpreet) Deol, an Indo-Canadian wannabe-Instagram-it-girl who’s forced to return home to the suburb of Brampton, ON after her truck driver father is arrested for smuggling narcotics across the border. The series is a fast paced, family crime drama with a South Asian anti-hero female protagonist taking the leading role.

  • Where did you get the inspiration to write on such topic? How did you come up with the name? 

A few years ago I began to notice a reoccurring narrative in the Indo-Canadian community where South Asian truck drivers were arrested at several borders for attempting to traffic narcotics. My dad used to be a truck driver, some of my uncles still drive truck and I took inspiration from these stories because in a way, I felt like I knew these men. I felt that their families couldn’t be that different from my own, and it was from that point of view that I proceeded to write the series.

I came up with the name, funnily enough, while driving on the 410…The 410 is this artery in and out of Brampton. Truck yards, warehouses, factories flank it on either side. It doesn’t boast pretty scenery, but it’s so important to the economy and livelihoods of so many Bramptonians, yet almost nobody is happy to be on that stretch of road. I felt that, in a way, that’s how Suri feels about returning home, until she comes to know the value of this place. I pitched the name to our team, an immediately, everyone was on board, so that’s what we called it.

In one of your interviews you have aligned 410 with The Godfather and The Sopranos. Can you tell us more about it? 

Both The Sopranos and The Godfather provided insight into what it looked like to belong to an Italian family from an insider’s perspective. Which is our aim with The 410. The seriesis a family crime drama and has sensationalized moments, but we also try to truthfully represent what it means to grow up in an Indo-Canadian family. There’s a lot of love between our characters, but also a lot of obstacles to that love, tied to reputation and patriarchy and familial obligations. I also valued the idea of challenging the patriarchy and introducing a female character that returns home to save her father, whereas traditionally that story usually features a male perspective.

The show focuses on truck drivers who are caught trafficking narcotics at the border? Can you tell us how big is the problem? Is it across Canada or some areas? 

According to a study by Osgoode Hall Law School, on Organized Crime in Canada from October to December 2012: Of the 15 to 18 significant drug seizures at the Windsor-Detroit crossing each year, about 70 per cent involve Indo-Canadian transport drivers, many of them recent immigrants to Canada.

There have also been several arrests made involving Indo-Canadian truck drivers across Canada, so the issue is not necessarily a localized one.

I think while citing these stats it’s important to mention that these cases should not be reflective of the industry as a whole, which is also full of many hard-working, sincere drivers, including my uncles/ cousins who drive truck and earn an honest living.

Did you do a lot of research and talked to real truck drivers who were caught on the border? Can you tell us what were some of the reasons that you found out that forces them to get involved with such risky business? 

I wasn’t able to speak with any of the truck drivers personally, but I did speak with a lawyer who has represented several South Asian defendants accused of drug trafficking as well a Peel Police officer that works in vice. Both encouraged me to focus on the personal side of the story, on the families that are affected by these events who lose fathers, brothers and husbands to incarceration.

I imagine every individual has a reason that is particular to their situation in coming to the decision to be involved in the drug trade. However, specifically in the Indo-Canadian community, I personally believe that as a community we place an excessive value on material wealth: nice houses, cars, watches, jewelry etc. over family values, strong community bonds and honest communication.

Those skewed values can place a lot of pressure on persons who are unable to keep pace, especially new immigrants who can be made to feel they are required to ‘catch up’ with members of their community who have been settled here for years.

Drugs, gang wars, addiction — are some of the serious issues that ail Indo-Canadian communities across Canada. Mainstream Media has been active in highlighting these issues which has created stereotypes. How have you approached the subject as someone who belongs to the Indo-Canadian community? Do you think the show is trying to highlight those issues again or trying to break the stereo-types? 

The Godfather came out in the early 70’s and in 2009 the Italic Institute of America released a report based on FBI statistics, stating that only 0.00782 percent of Italian-Americans possessed any criminal associations. And yet, according to a national Zogby poll, 74 percent of the American public believed that Italian-Americans had ties to the mob.

I was conscious from the beginning that I was writing a story that shone a light on a dark topic within a community that has so many highlights, like Jagmeet Singh, Rupi Kaur, Harjit Sajjan, and Lilly Singh to name just a fraction Punjabi’s making us proud.

And in that vein I tried my best to create complex, nuanced characters that didn’t succumb to a stereotype. Drugs, gangs, addiction are not issues singular to our community, and what I hope permeates above all else in this series, even though sometimes our characters do awful things, is the strength of the family. I think that sense of duty to our parents and loved ones is reflected in the immigrant experience across numerous communities.

 Can you dwell more into your own character and how exciting was it to play a protagonist? 

The character I wrote/ play is Suri Deol. She’s a Insta-Celebrity wannabe, when we meet her, she’s living in Toronto and has blonde hair and blue contacts, and is actively dismissive of the fact that she’s Indian, and from Brampton. In a sense, I think Suri’s attributes are my own personal desires, and fears and insecurities magnified on screen. I was born in India and moved to Canada when I was four years old. I had to take ESL classes when I started going to school and for a long time, just wanted to fit in, which meant trying to be less Indian.

They say ‘write what you know’ so I put a lot of myself into Suri and I was afraid of that fact that when I was done writing… I would have to play her. A lot of her inner life is so close to mine, I was worried it would be too close/ or that I wouldn’t be able to do the usual character analysis I undertake as a part of my personal craft.

But the truth was that it came pretty easily… Since we didn’t have a lot of time between when I finished writing to when we went to camera, I actually wasn’t able to fit in much character prep, but because I had spent so much time with Suri, she kind of just came through me. It was a nice lesson to learn in terms of trusting my self and my instincts.

The poster of the series looks stunning. Can you tell us about your looks and is there any particular person who inspired this look? 

While I was writing the series, I spent a lot of time on social media (probably a fair bit just procrastinating…) and I came across this online movement of South Asian women who were donning the ‘day of the dead’ skull make up with Indian Jewelry. The movement thrives through the #badbeti and was originated by Maria Qamar (@Hatecopy) and BabneetLakhesar (@babbuthepainter).

I think the thing myself and all these South Asian women grabbed onto, was reclaiming the traditional image of the submissive Indian Bride, and subverting that iconography to represent the new Indian woman of the 21st century as dangerous, powerful and multi-dimensional.

How has been your journey from a theatre group to making your own web series? 

Sawitri was a very special time because it was right before my awakening to the idea that acting could be a career choice. When I landed my first role in a Sawitri Theatre production, I had just finished film school and had grown so accustomed to being on the other side of the camera, that to be on stage as an actor felt like coming home in a way.

It was in that community that I met Gabe Grey and other ethic actors who while preforming in this community theatrewere also pursing careers in mainstream media. Most importantly, they were Indian and still actively pursuing the arts as a valid occupation, which up until that point seemed completely out of reach for me. Developing that initial connection to a community of South Asian artists was a significant stepping-stone in building my confidence to believe that this was an industry that had a place for me.

What are your future projects?

I recently did a motion capture for a video game that’ll be out in the near future! It was my first time within that medium and I had maybe the most fun I’ve ever had on set! I also recently shot a feature written and directed by my close friend Sam Coyle called ‘Hazy Little Thing’ and right now I’m staring down that blank canvass and working away at Season 2 of The 410, which if anyone’s interested, they can follow our story and progress on our IG page @the410_Series.

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