'It was a step in telling my story,' says Indo-Canadian creator of crime drama The 410
'Every family is flawed' and the immigrant family isn't always depicted that way, says director
As an Indo-Canadian Punjabi growing up in the northwest Toronto district of Rexdale, Supinder Wraich was surrounded by truckers.
Her parents have a trucking school and her uncles are drivers in an industry that's filled with many Indo-Canadian Punjabis who live in Rexdale and nearby Brampton, which has a large South Asian population.
But in 2011, when news stories emerged about Indo-Canadian truck drivers being arrested at the border for allegedly smuggling drugs, Wraich was shocked.
"It struck me as so strange because these men were like my uncles — like my father — and I felt like their families were our families," said the creator and star of the new web series The 410.
"It sort of rocked me because this is an aspect of my community I know very little about."
The headlines compelled Wraich, an actor and filmmaker seen in shows like The Good Doctor, Guidestones and Crawford, to dive into researching these cases, including meeting with a lawyer who represents some of the accused drivers.
The result is her new three-episode digital drama for CBC Gem: Brampton-set The 410, named after a major highway that links the community to the Greater Toronto Area.
The series explores subjects like drug trafficking, criminality and sexism, as well as the role of family. Wraich stars as an aspiring Instagram influencer who turns to crime to help her truck driver father after he's found with a large cache of drugs and arrested.
'Let's tell a more complicated story'
Wraich and her cast of predominantly South Asian Canadian actors said they hope to shine a light on contemporary issues within the South Asian community.
For instance, the protagonist was crafted from the idea of trying to balance different worlds: a young woman attempting to navigate her budding career in social media, her Punjabi culture and personal conflict with her father, according to Wraich, who even started an Instagram account for the fictional character.
"When we meet Suri, she is the epitome of somebody who wants to be someone else," Wraich said at a red carpet event launching The 410 in Toronto this week.
With The 410, Wraich wants to explore moral shades of grey and depict complex and multifaceted ethnic characters.
"I don't feel perfect. I feel like I have a lot of flaws," she said, adding that she felt it is important "to talk about the issues within my community" beyond the simple archetype of "people who work hard and they make it."
That's a notion echoed by The 410 director Renuka Jeyapalan, who feels that depicting an ethnic family with flaws makes the show more relatable.
"This story, at the heart, is about family — and every family is flawed. Every family is dysfunctional in its own way," said the Toronto-based Jeyapalan.
"The immigrant family isn't always depicted that way. There's one portrayal of them in the media usually. Let's tell a more complicated story about complex, deeply flawed people — and they just feel real."
The 410's gritty tone takes inspiration, Jeyapalan said, from the acclaimed HBO crime thriller The Night Of, which garnered British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed a historic Emmy Award win in 2017. Ahmed, who played a Pakistani college student in New York charged with murder after a one-night stand, became the first man of Asian heritage to win an acting Emmy.
South Asian representation rare
The 410 is the latest in a small pool of onscreen content highlighting South Asian talent and exploring issues faced by their communities.
One of the most iconic — but problematic — faces of South Asian representation in mainstream entertainment has been The Simpsons character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Among the numerous supporting characters of the American cartoon sitcom, the character of Apu has increasingly been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes about the South Asian community and Simpsons writers' room blasted for its lack of diversity.
In Canada, Oscar-nominated Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta released the 2015 movie Beeba Boys, a Vancouver-set look at Sikh gang culture. The crime thriller, which earned mixed reviews, faced criticism from police for glamorizing a gangland lifestyle.
That same year, Indo-Canadian director-producer Rakhi Mutta received a warm reception for her YouTube web series Anarkali, which centred on a young South Asian woman who leans on her community to move on after being dumped by her fiancé two months before their wedding.
Anarkali holds a special place in Wraich's heart: the series offered representation of South Asian characters that she said she'd never seen before.
Moving forward, whether The 410 will continue depends on how well it is received. But for Wraich, it's been cathartic simply making and launching the show.
"It was a step in telling my story instead of telling other people's stories," she said, adding that she hopes the character of Suri resonates beyond South Asian women.
"For young women who haven't seen themselves represented in that way, in terms of a character that is nuanced and isn't perfect and makes the wrong decisions — I never had that."
With files from The Canadian Press and Deana Sumanac-Johnson.