Toronto’s Gerrard India Bazaar Comes Alive on Screen
Little India: Village of Dreams is a story of immigrant experiences defining the social, cultural and geographical identity of the place.
A theater that came into existence to let the South Asian community meet with each other and give a chance to Indian women to flaunt their saris. A local store re-named as Amitabh Shopping Mall to satiate the Bollywood craving of Indian immigrants. A bazaar that is “a microcosm” of the cultural and religious diversity of world’s largest democracy. These are some of the few stories that unfold in Little India: Village of Dreams, Canadian filmmaker Nina Beveridge’s documentary on Toronto’s iconic Gerrard India Bazaar.
“I have lived very close to Gerrard Bazaar and I have seen it change with time. Walking through the Bazaar makes me feel home. The Indianness of the market was always more than nostalgia for me. Making this film was like exploring an identity and exploring myself,” Nina Beveridge told Little India.
Little India: Village of Dreams, showcased as part of the 150th year celebrations of Canada to mark the year when British North America Act was passed and the colonies of Canada joined to create a single Dominion of Canada, aims to reflect upon the Canadian diversity.
“This film is a quest to explore who we are and what we mean when we say we are Canadians,” Beveridge said.
Toronto’s Little India is a story of immigrant dreams defining and re-defining social, cultural and geographical identity of a place.
In 1972, Gian Naaz, an immigrant from India, rented a defunct theater in Gerrard, with a capacity of around 700 people to show Indian films over the weekend. His idea was to create a place where Indians and South Asians could meet. Gerrard was a low-income area but Naaz saw it as a place where Indian businesses could proliferate.
From weekly shows and from a single store that sold souvenirs and items from India, the place was soon taken over by South Asian merchants. By the 1980s, Little India was firmly established with approximately 100 South Asian shops and restaurants and received an estimated 100,000 tourists in 1984.
Born in Mumbai, Beveridge grew up in India, Canada and the United States. She traveled to India for work and to be with her extended family, and a part of her always stayed connected to India.
“Little India: Village of Dreams is a story of multigenerational families running businesses in the Gerrard bazaar,” she explains. “The idea was to speak to the second-generation Canadians who have taken these ‘mom n pop shops’ further. Unlike their parents who were immigrants and struggled to establish their businesses the second generation is confident, optimistic and want to get the best of their Indo-Canadian identity.”
The documentary that explores how the traditional Indian shops and restaurants have attempted to modernize while preserving their cultural legacy, also talks about the different South Asian communities that have come together to share a business space.
“The challenge was to give a snapshot of the bazaar in the limited duration of a film. But the film does reflect how a Sri Lankan shop, a Tibetan outlet, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi business setups have all mingled and showcase the new and a much diverse Canada. The business prospects of ethnic food, fashion and Beauty in a ‘foreign’ land have brought them all together.”
Gentrification is the new reality of the iconic Gerrard India Bazaar. An area with a declining economy in the 1970s, exploded into a lucrative business space for South Asians. The portraits of non-South Asian businesses reflect the dilution of the ethnic identity and emergence of a more global culture.
“You can only sell what people want. It is not a museum,” Beveridge had earlier told NowToronto. In fact, I have developed a real appreciation for these new businesses from other cultures in the neighborhood. I hope this film makes people appreciate the diversity we all share as Canadians.”