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As Crazy Rich Asians soars at the multiplex, Canadian filmmakers Prem Singh and Michael Pugliese are hoping diversity pays off at the box office, again, with their boxing movie Tiger, starring Mickey Rourke and Pretty Little Liars alum Janel Parrish, It’s set for a November domestic release.
“Hollywood has to wake up to this. We live in a multicultural world. Tiger and Crazy Rich Asians are testament to what’s happening in the world,” Pugliese told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Toronto Film Festival after other movies like Black Panther, Girls Trip and Get Out scored with ethnically diverse audiences.
“We hope Tiger can do that for another religion and culture,” Singh added. Singh and Pugliese penned the screenplay for Tiger, which Alister Grierson directs, as an uplifting sports drama rooted in the Asian culture, much like Jon M. Chu’s groundbreaking Crazy Rich Asians.
The indie is based on the true story of Canadian Sikh boxer Pardeep Nagra, played by Singh. Though lightning fast with his punches, Nagra was barred from competing in the 1999 Canadian boxing championships because he refused to shave off his beard and fight clean-shaven.
Nagra eventually had to go to the Canadian courts to overturn the ban in 2000 on religious discrimination grounds.
And Singh and Pugliese had to go to Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles to convince The Wrestler star Rourke, who left acting to try his hand at a career in professional boxing, to join their indie drama as Nagra’s coach.
“We went in and started hitting the bags for a couple hours and in walks Mickey, and we go introduce ourselves and get to talking about our passion for boxing and Pardeep Nagra’s story and what it means to us. He felt the inspiration coming off of us, because Mickey says, ‘OK, send me the script,'” Singh recalled.
The audacity of Singh and Pugliese’s vision for Tiger is underlined by the duo being unable get their project financed in Canada. So they went stateside to shoot the movie, which was financed by R3M Productions, and portrayed Nagra as an American boxer.
Pugliese, who, along with Singh, appears in Tiger, says their film is timely, as U.S. Army recruits have had to fight in the courts to wear their religiously mandated beards and turbans in uniform, and Muslim and Sikh communities in Britain have gone to their own courts to overturn a similar ban on amateur boxers fighting in the ring with a beard.
“We want to inspire others to not give in and fight for what they believe,” Pugliese said.
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