Andrew Chung‘s first feature, White Elephant, offers a fresh perspective based on many 1990s high school rom-coms.
Set in 1996, in a majority-minority neighbourhood in Scarborough, 16-year-old Pooja (Zaarin Bushra) finds herself torn between her crush on Trevor, a white boy (Jesse Nasmith), and her friends Manpreet (Gurleen Singh) and Amit (Dulmika Hapuarachchi).
Although the coming of age theme is not new, White Elephant has the added layer of an identity crisis on the part of the protagonist, Pooja.
Amidst the average ups and downs of being a teenager, Pooja is trying to find herself as a teenager growing up in Scarborough/Markham (Canada), while at the same time trying to fit in with her peer group. She is born in Canada to Indian parents. Her father is somewhat stereotypical in his expectations of what a South Asian/Indian girl is supposed to be and act like. Within all the expectations, Pooja is trying to navigate the world even when she feels like an outcast. She worries she is not ‘not Brown enough / not White enough’; all of which makes matters more complicated.
Pooja must also confront her distorted view of herself based on what she sees on television and films. References to the 1996 film version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ play heavily within this film; in that Pooja develops an idealistic view of romance, when she dreams of being with Trevor as her Romeo. Her friends, Manpreet and Amit, try to make her see that she is a bit misguided, but this only creates conflict among the trio. Her pursuit for Trevor’s attention takes an abrupt turn, ultimately forcing Pooja to find her way to self-realization and self-love.
White Elephant is a film that is engaging in terms of subject matter, as well as, entertaining. Personally, I appreciate the representation of what is is like for BIPOC teens growing up in Canada. There is much about the film that resonated with me, which is definitely refreshing. Chung and cast have created a film that will resonate to many of us.
I had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Chung about the film. Click below for the full interview.