Bollywood-style movie Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya launched at local and national theatres on July 29, with the vast majority of the film shot in Barkerville Historic Town and Park in B.C.’s Cariboo.
Directed by Amrinder Gill — who also plays protagonist Chhalla — the story dramatizes the struggle for equal labour rights at B.C. forestry mills. The film is based on the experiences of Punjabi migrants who arrived in the province to work during the early 1890s and were faced with resentment from locals.
Barkerville public programming director James Douglas said it can be difficult to film a location that is a museum before all else, and production companies need to be aware of the challenges ahead of time.
He described the film’s production company, Rhythm Boyz Entertainment, as relatively young — and yet, this movie had a positive impact on the area because producers were interested in learning how to preserve the area while filming.
“We were able to communicate to this company, the reason that [the town] is here for you to take advantage of it, is because there has been an army of people over the last 60 years that have done everything in their power to make sure it is preserved.”
Douglas first learned the crew wanted to film in Barkerville during the fall of 2020. The film was supposed to be shot that year, and the crew had completed the pre-production work while developing in-roads with the local community.
However, the crew could only get one day of filming in before COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for stars who live in India to travel to B.C.
“They were forced to turn around and say, ‘I’m sorry, we got to go, but we promise we’ll come back.’ And they did. They really knew it was the place that they wanted, so they were willing to wait nearly two years to come and shoot here.”
When the crew was able to return to the historic town last December, it was a boost to the local economy, he said, estimating that more than 100 locals played extras in the film, and hosting productions is good for the tourist economy.
Douglas was glad to see the film’s success inspire Bollywood fans and South Asian families from neighbouring communities to travel to where the film was shot, learning about Barkerville’s history along the way.
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, many filmmakers shot at the historic town because it has the versatility of a generic western set, with the added authenticity that comes from the town’s status as a preserved gold rush town, Douglas said.
“Unlike a place that is purpose-built like Jamestown down in Vancouver, these are the real buildings. They have been here for 160 years.”
The film is primarily performed in Punjabi and has English subtitles.
In the scenes of the movie shot in the town, the main characters are shown working at a forestry mill. Filmmakers took about a month to shoot all the scenes set in Barkerville, showing the interior of buildings, the main street and building exteriors.
Another historic site filmmakers recast is Cottonwood House Historic Site, located between Quesnel and Barkerville. Film-makers used this site to depict the Punjabi workers’ bunkhouse. Cottonwood House was actually used as a roadside house for travellers, Douglas said.
There were a series of roadhouses that housed travellers who worked in the gold and transportation industries. Francis Barnard — who opened a local coach express in the 1860s — had made deals with all of the roadhouses to have grain for his horses at the ready, and Cottonwood House actually had a farm attached to it.
Most of the production and acting crew stayed in the neighbouring town of Wells, where Douglas and many of his colleagues live. The production crew plans to put on a small showing at the Sunset Theatre in Wells because many of the people in the theatre society participated in the production or housed out-of-town crew, Douglas said.
Douglas hopes the positive buzz about the film sparks interest from other production companies, either directly or through Creative BC.
As for Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya, those interested can still catch a showing at the Famous Players 6 Cinema in Prince George.