Deepa Mehta picks debutant actor for major 'Komagata Maru' role

Toronto, Nov 14 (IANS) Vinay Virmani, a recent graduate of the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York, will debut with the role of Canada's first Sikh martyr Mewa Singh in Deepa Mehta's upcoming film "Komagata Maru".

"The arc of Mewa Singh's character begins as a young man of innocence filled with hope and ends with an enraged man transformed by anger into a seeker for justice. I wanted a fresh face to render this role and after much consideration I selected Vinay. He is talented, eager and passionate - qualities essential for the young Mewa Singh," Mehta said in a statement issued here Thursday.

Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship, which was hired by a wealthy Malaysian Sikh Gurdit Singh to bring 376 Indians from Hong Kong (where they reached by steamship from India) to Canada 94 years ago in violation of the racist laws of that time.

The ship reached Vancouver in May 1914 but was not allowed to anchor for two months and then forcibly sent back to India, where British Indian police killed many passengers.

Mewa Singh, a Vancouver-based immigrant at that time, made headlines by shooting dead police officer William Charles Hopkins who was sent by the British from India to spy on Indian revolutionaries in Canada.

Hopkins was instrumental in not letting Komagata Maru passengers into Canada and plotting the assassination of the Khalsa Diwan Society gurdwara secretary Bhag Singh.

Mewa Singh was hung to death on Jan 11, 1915 in Vancouver. The day is celebrated as Mewa Singh Martyrdom Day.

Akshay Kumar, whose Hariom Entertainment is co-producer of the film, said: "I am delighted to have Vinay as part of our cast. Mewa Singh is a significant character in the film. His contributions and sacrifice were a true testament to human struggles for freedom. Mewa Singh was one of the bravest Sikhs of his time. I am confident Vinay will do justice to this great humanitarian."

Vinay said: "It is both incredibly exciting and slightly daunting to be given the challenge of playing a historical figure of such significance to my community. I am looking forward to being a part of this incredible film."

The film will be shot in various locations across the world from September 2009.

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