(Toronto) Indian director Tarsem Singh, known for his fantasy music videos and feature films, unveiled his first film in eight years at the Toronto Film Festival, a story combining love, class and crime in the 1990s.

Dear Jassi is the 62-year-old director’s very first film set in his native country and, in an interview with AFP, the latter says he waited for the right moment to do it.

It was 20 years ago that Tarsem Singh first heard about this true story of a star-crossed love between a Canadian-born girl from a wealthy Punjabi family, Jassi, and an autorickshaw driver, Mithu .

“I called my brother and said, ‘Either we tell this story now, or we wait two decades until it’s retro,’” he says.

At that time, Tarsem Singh was already known in Hollywood, notably thanks to his music video for R. E. M.’s hit song Losing My Religion, which won six times at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1991.

He then directed Jennifer Lopez in the sci-fi horror film The Cell and other films including The Fall, Snow White with Julia Roberts and Self/less, with Ryan Reynolds.

But the heartbreaking story of Jassi and Mithu remained on his list of projects, and a meeting just before the COVID-19 pandemic with screenwriter Amit Rai, who he said was “obsessed” with the story, resulted in on a scenario.

It was essential for Singh not to use stars for his film: Jassi’s interpreter, Pavia Sidhu, had some experience as an actress, while Mithu’s interpreter, Yugam Sood, is a student who is making his very first debut in front of the camera.

“They would have wanted me to bring in someone from Bollywood. They would have wanted me to shoot the film in Hindi,” says Tarsem Singh. “But I told them, ‘That’s how it has to be.’ […] It’s in Punjabi and it’s a small production. »

Tarsem Singh transforms this current affairs drama into a sort of folk tale: the film begins and ends with verses from singer Kanwar Grewal. And the format is similar to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

After their first meeting, the lovers are separated by continents for years, until Jassi returns to India and secretly marries Mithu. When her family discovers this union, Jassi is beaten and forced to file a complaint against her husband.

She manages to return to India, but the tender reunion does not last and ends in blood.

For Singh, the story is personal, as the events took place not far from where he was born, in the Punjab region of northwest India. He felt he could bring societal pressures clearly to the screen, particularly in his portrayal of Jassi’s mother.

With nine daughters in a blended family, Jassi’s mother was faced with a choice: “One of them rebels and the other eight don’t want to get married, they are ruined. What must she do to get them married? Give up on Jassi or accept her? »

“And she chose to give up on Jassi […] I don’t support this decision, but I understand it,” he adds. She suffers and makes the worst decision. »

The choice of Toronto for the world premiere of Dear Jassi was “obvious” because of the story’s connections to Canada. The film will also be screened in competition at the London Film Festival in early October.

When asked if he will make more films in India, Singh enthuses.

“When I finished that movie, I was like, “Oh, I love this experience.” I want to do several more there. And I’ll probably get started on it right away,” he says, dreaming of “a big-scale Indian action film.”