After two decades of dreaming and working, Canada’s Gill brothers make big splash in India’s film industry with ‘Jersey’

VANCOUVER—In their youth, twin brothers Aman and Pawan Gill looked forward to the long trip from the Vancouver suburb of Surrey to the city’s core, where they could catch films coming out of India.

In 1992 it wasn’t as easy as popping down to the local theater. Indian films weren’t shown commercially in the city then, so the Gills had to head downtown after school on Fridays to check out what was being played in private showings at an auditorium.

A couple of years later, films from the subcontinent began showing at two cinemas in Vancouver and, despite having to sometimes make a trip a week or day in advance to secure tickets, the brothers were fixtures in the audience. It was a natural progression from watching Indian movies with their parents on weekends as children, and one of the best ways to connect with their cultural roots, they say.

“We got really passionately involved in watching movies from the age of five, and we never looked back,” Aman told the Star from India this week.

Now, years later, the brothers are the ones in India making the films — and to say it’s been going well would be an understatement.

After nearly two decades working in that country’s film industry and with a number of movies behind them, this month they released their first film made independently by them.

Twins Aman and Pawan Gill grew up in Surrey, BC, and have gone on to become Bollywood filmmakers.

It’s also their biggest flick yet — released in more than 25 countries around the world and featuring one of India’s biggest stars as its lead.

“Jersey” tells the story of struggling former cricket player who wants to make his child’s dream of owning a Team India cricket jersey a reality. The film (now screening in several Canadian cities including Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton and Calgary) stars big name Shahid Kapoor and Mrunal Thakur in a Hindi-language adaptation of a 2019 film in the Telugu language.

The movie was produced by the brothers’ company Brat Films, with Aman taking the lead in its production. It represents the fruit of a decision he made in 2002, after finishing an economics degree at the University of British Columbia, to spend some time in India.

While in Mumbai, he said, he met some of “the right people” who were making films in the city and, by 2003, he had decided to make the leap into the industry.

“One thing led to another and they asked, ‘Why don’t you stick back and join a new upcoming studio?’” he said. “It took me 15 years later and I became the CEO of one major studio in 2016, and then became an independent producer.”

Aman said he was fortunate enough to learn the movie business while at the same time applying what he learned from his economics background.

Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, Pawan was studying at Vancouver Film School after finishing a biochemistry degree. I have joined his brother in India a year and a half later.

In an industry where family lineage is how many people get in, the Gill brothers had no such connections, but they were gregarious.

“We’re very confident and very social with each other and people, so we really have no apprehension of meeting people of talking to people and kind of networking,” Pawan said.

Aman’s initial contacts led him to those who would hire his brother for projects being worked on in Vancouver. Pawan was soon on his way home, but also launching a career.

Their parents were initially resistant, but eventually their nerves began to settle as their sons’ careers to take off, Pawan said.

“They thought maybe it was a little fad: they’ll stay in India six months or a year and then pack their bags and come back,” Pawan said. “But the fad never got out of our system.”

Kamal Sharma is a promoter of Indian entertainment acts coming to Vancouver, who also owned a video-rental store in Surrey that nurtured the twins’ love of Indian cinema.

“They would always come and talk to me about upcoming movies, upcoming stars, all that,” Sharma said. “I never really had any inkling” that they would take their passion this far.

The brothers exchange delighted chuckles when about Sharma, recalling when they used to call his store asking him to hold copies of popular movies for them to rent if they missed them in the theaters. The three know each other well, said Pawan, and have stayed in touch.

Though there have been numerous actors and actresses from Surrey to appear in Indian films, the success the brothers have achieved as producers is unique in that they call the shots, Sharma said.

Pawan and Aman said while they are based in Mumbai, they are still connected to Canada in many ways. Aman is always up early to watch Vancouver Canucks or Toronto Blue Jays games.

“We feel like we’re living in two countries,” Aman said, referencing the Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette’s eighth-inning grand slam against Boston earlier this week.

“Imagine waking up to that and then going to the office and making movies.”


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