As an Indo-Canadian Punjabi growing up in the northwest Toronto district of Rexdale, Supinder Wraich was surrounded by truckers.
Her parents have a trucking school and her uncles are drivers in the industry that’s filled with many other Indo-Canadians who live in Rexdale and nearby Brampton, Ont., which has a large South Asian population, says the actor-writer-director.
So in 2011, when news articles emerged about Indo-Canadian truck drivers being arrested at the border for drug smuggling, Wraich felt connected to the stories and wanted to make a documentary about them.
Her fictionalized account inspired by the events turned into the new web drama series “The 410,” written in 2017 after she met with a lawyer who represents some of the accused drivers and he told her to focus on personal elements of her vision.
“It was heart-warming to see that this community, because we don’t get our stories told, was so enthusiastic about it,” said Wraich, who shot the series over 12 days at locations including her parents’ house, the Sikh Spiritual Centre Toronto and Brampton public transit.
“Everybody was like, ‘You’re going to tell a story about us about our community? By all means, take all the resources we have.’”
Debuting Thursday on CBC Gem, the series also stars Wraich as Suri, an aspiring Indo-Canadian Instagram influencer in Toronto whose truck-driver father is arrested after being caught with a large amount of cocaine. In an effort to make his bail money, she tries to sell a stash of drugs she finds in the family car.
Wraich said Suri was partly inspired by a character she saw on the comedy-drama series “High Maintenance” — a young Muslim woman who tries to buy cannabis.
“That was probably the first time I’d seen a South-Asian woman represented without hero qualities or desirable qualities or, ‘Oh, she’s a doctor’ or a lawyer or an accountant and she fits into this stereotype,” said Wraich, who was born in Chandigarh, India and recently moved to Los Angeles.
“Often I don’t get roles where the characters have problems and issues and they’re not perfect, and that’s what I was really desiring. That’s why I wrote it, because I’ve never played this part and I rarely get to audition for these parts.
“The only other comparable character I can think of is Kalinda from ‘The Good Wife’ in terms of a badass, South-Asian female character — but the lead, in this case.”
Wraich created an Instagram account for her character under the handle @Indian_Blonde.
At the beginning of the story, Suri has bleached blond hair, contacts to make her brown eyes blue, and a bedroom wall full of images of Caucasian models.
“Growing up, these images that I looked up to and aspired to were skinny, blond women in magazines, and this is where Suri starts when we meet her. Then she transitions into finding her power when she returns home,” said Wraich, whose other credits include “The Good Doctor” and “Crawford.”
At one point Suri calls herself “pretty for an Indian girl” — a line that came from Wraich’s own life.
“I went to a predominantly Caucasian high school, so I was always the girl who was ‘Pretty for an Indian girl,’” she said.
“At the beginning I took it as a compliment like, ‘Oh, that means I’m pretty,’ and later on in my mid-20s I was like, ‘No, I’m just pretty. I’m not pretty in spite of my race; probably because of it.’”
Wraich also co-produced the series, which is named after the highway connecting Brampton to the Greater Toronto Area.
Toronto-based filmmaker Renuka Jeyapalan directed the series, which is the first feature-length project for Mad Ruk Entertainment, a production company known for its music videos with artists including the Weeknd.
“I loved that it was a South-Asian woman at the centre and it wasn’t a comedy, it wasn’t something broad,” said Jeyapalan.
“It was more grounded and about family in a more authentic way, and not your typical just east-meets-west kind of conflict but really the types of issues that are more complicated.”
There are currently three, 25-minute episodes available, and while the finale wraps up some elements of the story it leaves the door open to extending the series, which Wraich hopes to do.
“It’s taken a lot of things that I’ve felt insecure about or hated about my community and given me a platform to have a dialogue with them about it, in terms of writing inside-out,” Wraich said.
“I went back and forth in terms of how personal I made this, but if I can’t tell my story, how can I tell anybody else’s?”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press