Grad’s first movie premieres at TIFF

Vinay Virmani [BA Hons. ’08] is no stranger to waiting in TIFF’s notoriously long lineups, but this year the Brampton boy will be walking right up the red carpet, reported Now Magazine Sept. 10. 

“It’s a dream come true,” says Virmani, the writer and star of the new Masala-flavoured hockey movie Breakaway, which gets its world premiere tonight [Sept. 10] at 9pm at the Elgin. 

Virmani plays Rajveer Singh, a Sikh-Canadian with a slight identity crisis who defies both his father’s traditional Indian rules and hockey norms by forming his own South Asian team. “It’s about our values as Canadians,” boasts Virmani, who not too long ago was an actor struggling for work. 

After graduating from York University with a bachelor’s degree in business & society, Virmani took lessons at the Lee Strasberg Institute of Theatre and Film in New York City. Returning to Toronto, he found there weren’t too many roles waiting for him. “I was auditioning and reading for scripts and nothing was connecting to me.” 

That’s when he decided to create his own opportunity by pulling a Matt Damon (or a Ben Affleck, take your pick). Like the Good Will Hunting scribes, Virmani wrote his own role by conceiving his own movie. For inspiration, Virmani drew on his life – from his love of hockey to the generational, cultural and identity issues that trouble most young South Asian Canadians.

Fortunately, getting the movie made wasn’t too difficult for Virmani, who practically grew up in the film industry. Not only is his father, Ajay Virmani, a producer on Deepa Mehta’s Bollywood/Hollywood and Water, but Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar is a close family friend. “Akshay is like my older brother,” Virmani says. “He is somebody that I have grown up with.” 

With his father, Kumar and even comedian Russell Peters (another family friend) all on board as producers, Virmani had no trouble populating his movie with actors like Rob Lowe and Camilla Belle (whom the writer conveniently cast as his romantic interest) and musicians like Drake and Ludacris. That’s some major company for Virmani’s first stroll down the red carpet.  

And if Breakaway does well, it certainly won’t be his last.  

Muslim grad hid his faith after 9/11

The terrorist attacks changed many lives all over the world, including that of Nova Scotian Emad Aziz [BA ’04], reported the Chronicle Herald in Halifax Sept. 12. The Lower Sackville Muslim was marked by the evil of others, for years praying secretly in stairwells or empty rooms.  

For a long time, some people chose [to hate] Aziz  – who has now been in Nova Scotia for five years, and passes today under a prayer on a plaque over the door of his Dartmouth mosque. "Oh God," it says in Arabic. "Open the doors of blessings and mercy for me."  

Just 20 years old on that merciless day, having been in Canada from Pakistan for just a year, Aziz was studying information technology at York University in Toronto when the al Qaeda terrorists carried out their US attacks. Already simmering tensions between Muslims and Jews and Christians on campus grew far worse.  

Non-Muslims who Aziz thought were his friends became cold overnight, "as if I had something to do with 9/11" – staring suspiciously, turning away, cancelling plans, asking him, "Why have they done this?" 

"As if I knew the answers," he says, sitting on the carpeted floor inside the mosque, overlooking wild rose bushes that shadow Albro Lake. "I’m equally lost as everybody else."  

So lost, that for years he felt shame for something he didn’t do. So lost, he hid his faith. 

"I was afraid," says the 31-year-old, who is now a Research In Motion employee and secretary of the Islamic Association of Nova Scotia. "I didn’t want people to know that I am Muslim. I wanted people to judge me for being a human being.  

But as time passed, after a long internal struggle, after re-examining the religion that used to be just something he grew up with, "something that you just do," Aziz turned a corner. He stopped hiding in stairwells or empty rooms to pray during his workday. And he embraced a faith he says has nothing to do with those 19 hijackers, with this "sad," this "evil event." 

"I understand that Islam encourages a human being to be the best they can be," Aziz says, refusing to be defined by "militant groups who abuse the faith for their own purposes" or to live in fear of what others think or do. He disarms distrustful glances these days by following the philosophy of the Prophet Muhammad, "that a smile is the best charity." 

Staying safe on campus

With tens of thousands of students across Canada returning to institutions of higher learning this month, their safety and well-being are part of the administration’s responsibility, reported 24 Hours Toronto Sept. 12. It’s a job that Toronto’s York University takes very seriously.  

According to a safety update released late August, the University will be increasing security personnel on campus and expanding shuttle services. They’ve also updated their emergency phone system and added door alarms and CCTV cameras to residences. Additionally, the University has implemented a management safety committee and a sexual assault initiatives committee.  

Wallace Pidgeon, associate director of media relations at York, says they’re taking a holistic approach. 

"It’s not just about a community-based security and safety service but about making sure that at our orientation week, for example, we have briefings, tutorials, meetings and events with (campus safety) in mind."  

Why fiction is good for you

To further test that empathy is a product of reading fiction rather than the reverse, York University psychologist Raymond Mar [Faculty of Health], experimented with two groups of randomly selected subjects, one of which read a short story and the other a piece of non-fiction, reported The Globe and Mail Sept. 10 in a story about a growing movement to find hard evidence to explain the power of fiction. Mar then subjected them to a test of social reasoning and found the short-story group performed better. 

For youth, Ontario’s election is about jobs

If Ontario’s election campaign is really about improving the lot of families, attention ought to focus on the province’s unemployed youth, reported The Globe and Mail Sept. 12.  

Ontario’s 15 per cent youth jobless rate – higher than the national average and twice the province’s overall rate – isn’t just dispiriting for the thousands of job seekers who are seeing their aspirations fade and skills atrophy. It has broader economic consequences, as well. Unemployment and underemployment are forcing kids to stay at home longer, putting financial pressure on parents and family members. They hamper the ability of young people to buy a home and build assets, reduce their lifetime earnings and place added pressure on social services.  

For now, motivated young grads such as Nav Dhanda [BA ’07] are languishing. His search for work in finance or marketing this summer has yielded no responses. Too much competition.  

The Mississauga resident recalls the last provincial election, which was punctuated with hopeful talk of green jobs and second careers. This time, he’s hearing few ideas that will help his generation.  

"They don’t understand the demographic," said the 28-year-old, who has a degree in political science from York University and just finished an MBA at Wayne State University in Detroit.  

While living in the United States, he heard politicians from Barack Obama to state governors and city mayors raise ideas on how to tackle youth employment. Here in Canada, he wonders why political leaders are silent. 

Dhanda, the MBA grad, is watching his whole cohort struggle to find good jobs. "People who graduated at the same time as me also have had little to no response. And they’re very highly qualified, highly educated with great experience. I can’t see why they’ve been overlooked."  

Grad runs for NDP in Etobicoke North

The NDP has nominated recent York University graduate Vrind Sharma [BHRM ’09] to run for the party in Etobicoke North in the upcoming provincial election, reported Metroland’s Inside Toronto Sept. 9.  

What to say when your business takes a body-blow

Your small business has just taken a serious blow – a key customer cancelled a big order for the fall. How do you deliver the bad news in-house? It’s best to take an upfront, honest approach, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 9.  

Share industry reports to support your case: “If the world is getting tougher, then provide documentation that shows how tough things are,” says Ronald Burke, professor emeritus, organizational studies, at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto. “You can say, ‘Here’s the industry picture, and here’s our company picture. Here are the changes going on, and the threats we are facing. We need to do more, with less, if we are going to survive this together.’”  

Communicate that you, as owner-manager, are in the same boat: “It’s critical for the person at the top to say, ‘I’m going to make sacrifices, too,’” says Burke, who is co-editor of a textbook titled Human Resource Management in Small Business: Achieving Peak Performance.  

Encourage employees to come up with cost-saving ideas: “Employees know how the business can save money and operate more efficiently,” says Burke. “I would certainly encourage them to find ways to cut costs without cutting people.” In this lacklustre economic environment, employees are keen to ensure the business’s survival. “The job market is not that great,” says Burke. “People are interested in keeping their jobs, and making sacrifices is easier to pull off in a small business.”  

Some cost-saving measures include short-term salary reductions, shorter work weeks and an end to merit pay. “There are a lot of ideas that a small business can tap into, without layoffs,” says Burke.  

Psychology grad links stress and skin health

It’s not all in your head. There really is a connection between your emotional state and your skin, says psychologist Linda Papadopoulos [BA Hons. ’93], reported the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 10. 

The Canadian-born-and-raised Papadopoulos has called Britain home for the past 14 years. She is known there as both a leading academic and as "Dr. Linda", a popular media commentator and adviser to the British government. She has her own skin-care line, LP Skin Therapy, which retails, among other places, in the luxury British department store Harrods.  

"The skin and the psyche are interconnected. You don’t have to be a psychologist to understand the link stress has to your skin," says Papadopoulos, who is the author of eight books, ranging from the academic text Psychodermatology: The Psychological Impact of Skin Disorders to Mirror Mirror: Dr. Linda’s Body Image Revolution.  

Papadopoulos became interested in the effect skin conditions have on personality because her cousin had vitiligo, a relatively rare disorder that causes depigmentation, creating light patches of skin. "She went from being open to being very quiet," she recalls.  

"You realize that in our beauty obsessed society, if you look less than perfect, it can have a profound impact on your self-esteem. Girls feel valued by how they look," says Papadopoulos, who did her undergraduate degree at Toronto’s York University before moving to Britain to do graduate work. She is a correspondent to the BBC and CNN, and a contributing editor to Cosmopolitan magazine’s British edition.  

Listen to your skin and realize it is a reflection of more than beauty, she urges.  

One of the best ways to be resilient is to have a self-esteem that goes far beyond how you look, says Papadopoulos, who was commissioned by the British Home Office to write a series of recommendations for the government on the sexualization of children and teens. (Among her recommendations: put warning symbols on magazine spreads that feature photoshopped models, which help convince impressionable girls that praying mantis-skinny is normal.)  

Self-worth has to be built on factors other than good looks, she says. "It should be based on how funny you are, how smart, how well you play the cello."  

The Bubble Man entertains all year on streets of Victoria

Terry Wilson [MES ’74], 65, is known as the Bubble Man. On 363 days of the year, excepting only Christmas and New Year’s, he can be found on or near Fernwood Square in Victoria, where he delights passersby by blowing, manufacturing and otherwise interacting with soapy bubbles, reported The Globe and Mail Sept. 12.  

"Little kids chase them. Middle-aged sophisticated people coming out of the wine bar in their finest clothes jump up to pop them," he said. "That little kid inside each of us comes out so easily with bubbles."  

The Bubble Man recently ran afoul of "The Man" in the form of a bylaw enforcement officer. He had been living in a recreation vehicle parked in the side yard of a house from which he received electricity and whose bathroom he used for a $350 monthly rent. After being evicted, he found a room in a nearby apartment, for which he pays $875, a steep price for a pensioner. Wilson has been collecting a disability pension for 12 years after being diagnosed with "depression, sleep disorder, anxiety."  

Wilson lived as a boy in Europe and Africa before the family settled in Winnipeg, where he graduated with a bachelor of environmental studies. He later got a masters degree at York University in Toronto.  

He didn’t care for working in government and wound up back in Winnipeg, where he opened a shop from which he sold handmade toys and other wooden crafts. He came to the West Coast nearly two decades ago. He stumbled into bubbling, a lustrous pastime with responsibilities he takes seriously. 

On air

  • Alexandre Brassard, a political scientist at York’s Glendon College, discussed the first week of the provincial election campaign, on “Au Dela De La 401”, CJBC-AM (Toronto) Sept. 9. 
  • Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed CBC’s plan to partner with Bell to bid for the broadcast rights to the Olympic Games in 2014 and 2016, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” and on other regional shows across Canada Sept. 9.