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Director of the award-winning short 'The Beard' talks about his film

The tug-of-war between freedom and fear is partly what Yazzad Rabadi peeks at in his short film, The Beard. Zoroastrian by descent, Yazzad, 'Yaz' Rabadi, who spent the first years of his life in Khareghat Colony, near Chowpatty, moved to Canada at age four. "I believe my parents moved to provide more opportunity for my sister and I" says the director of the fictional short film that compels viewers to consider the dilemma of an elderly Sikh immigrant to Canada, a victim of a violent hate crime, in a country where Sikhs have countered a spate of hate crimes over the last few years and where, just last month, a Hindu temple was vandalised by youths who left a baseball bat (inscribed with a Sikh surname and the Khanda symbol) behind, ostensibly to create friction between the communities.

Last year, Canadian, Dave Foran emailed a Punjabi radio station there with the words, 'Lose the traditions or stay in India' in the subject line. When interviewed by radio-show-host Phillip Till later, Foran elaborated on his stance saying, "Your long beards, turbans, clothes and waddling as you follow each other down the street is enough to make us sick."

Our own country recently suffered the ignominy of being ranked among the world's most intolerant places. In May this year, a World Values Survey 2013 revealed that almost half the Indian population does not want neighbours of a different race. Then, just last month, disturbing reports emerged about Chogmal Jain, a Hindu resident of a Bandra building whose preposterous request for a different water source from the one that supplies water to the homes of Muslim and Christian residents was, bizarrely, actually sanctioned, 'on religious grounds' by an engineer with the water department in H West ward.

With authorities thus tacitly supporting discrimination, must personal freedom and cultural identity be traded in for security? This 28-year-old, award-winning short-film director compels you to trek the dark pathways of prejudice and consider what you would do. 


Movie stills of The Beard: The figure taking support on the wall as seen in the film, The Beard

“I believe my parents moved to provide more opportunity for my sister and I,” says the director of the fictional short film, that compels viewers to consider the dilemma of an elderly Sikh immigrant to Canada, a victim of a violent hate crime, in a country where Sikhs have countered a spate of hate crimes over the last few years and where, just last month, a Hindu temple was vandalised by youths who left a baseball bat (inscribed with a Sikh surname and the Khanda symbol) behind, ostensibly to create friction between the communities.

Shortly after, Canadian Dave Foran emailed a Punjabi radio station with the words, “Lose the traditions or stay in India” in the subject line. When interviewed by radio-show-host Phillip Till later, Foran elaborated on his stance saying, “Your long beards, turbans, clothes and waddling as you follow
each other down the street is enough to make us sick.”


The potent image of scissors held by the Sikh man that hint at violence — a major theme of the film

He adds how Canada recently suffered the ignominy of being ranked among the world’s most intolerant places. “Then, just last month, disturbing reports emerged about Chogmal Jain, a Hindu resident of a Bandra building whose preposterous request for a different water source from the one that supplies water to the homes of Muslim and Christian residents was bizarrely sanctioned “on religious grounds,” he informs.

With authorities thus tacitly supporting discrimination, must personal freedom and cultural identity be traded in for security? This 28-year-old, award-winning, short-film director compels you to trek the dark pathways of prejudice and consider what you would do.

How did you develop an interest in filmmaking? Tell us about your influences.
As weird as it may sound, my love for film and art in general, came from a place of isolation and separation. For most of my early childhood in Canada, I found it difficult socialising and forming friendships with kids. As a result, I would be left to the devices of my own imagination. 

Cinema entered my life around the age of seven. One of my earliest cinematic memories was watching Batman Returns on the big screen. It’s a powerful, operatic piece of filmmaking that resonated strongly with me. It captivated my imagination and that’s when I fell in love with the medium.

As I matured, I began to appreciate films from Europe and Asia that were unique in their aesthetic flavour. Technology evolved and I began studying the medium at Ryerson University, so films in general were more accessible to me. I found the films of directors such as Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) and Chan-wook Park (South Korean thriller, Old Boy) most stimulating, with unique identities that distinguished them from the average North American movie-fare. I also became increasingly drawn towards powerful, concentrated stories, which allowed the viewer to focus on the emotional journeys of an ensemble of interesting characters.


An isolated figure of an aged Sikh man

Does the “madness” of Mumbai influence your films/choice of subjects at all?
I think that the whole world is a mad place — a lot of my artistic work stems from the restlessness and conflict in the human spirit, from the idea that peace is always a bit out of reach. That struggle is simply a part of life. The Beard is a film that incorporates these ideas, but one where I also tried to leave viewers with a message of strength and hope.

The turbaned senior in the trailer of The Beard brandishes a pair of scissors -- do you believe that homogeneity could curb violence?
I would not wish homogeneity on our world, nor do I think it would greatly curb violence. We are beautiful because of the differences, not in spite of them. The Beard tries to convey a similar message, in that victims of intolerance should stay strong and true to their beliefs. They shouldn’t give up their identity. Of course, this is immensely difficult to do when you are a victim
of violence.

Since you made this film, have things improved/worsened for the Sikh community in Canada? What would you peg the current tolerance level for The Beard at?
When I wrote The Beard (most of its screenings took place in 2012), I made a conscious decision to have the focus of the story on the aftermath of the attack, rather than the attack itself.

What I found more interesting was how victims deal with it. I don’t know if things have gotten better or worse since I made the film. I will say that, speaking as a man who has a rather large beard, I always feel eyes on me. More often than not, I have positive interactions with people I am meeting for the first time because of my beard.


The semi-hidden figure of the protagonist

Can you tell us about the feature films you're currently working on? What are Hopscotch and The Red about and when are they slated for release?
Both Hopscotch and The Red are currently on hold as other imposing projects have taken priority lately. Currently I am working on an untitled narrative/documentary hybrid feature film, dealing with the issue of gun violence in North America.

The film will be executed in a documentary style, detailing major events tied to the history of gun violence from our past as well as projecting a possible future in which different characters have taken action against the gun movement. I am very excited about the different discussions, viewpoints and, most of all, the political action the film could inspire.

Festival screenings
>> Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival
>> LA Indie Film Festival
>> Manhattan Film Festival
>> Yorkton Film Festival

Accolades won
>> Grand River Film Festival
(Winner as the Best Short Shorts Film)
>> Yorkton Film Festival 

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