"It's been a pretty exciting and grueling adventure," Khan told CBC Arts. "It's a drama with a brown guy in the lead who is on-screen for 99% of the film, so realistically — in terms of producing the film — that was the probably the biggest challenge in getting it made and getting it out there."
Khoya follows Roger Moreau (Rupak Ginn), a Toronto-raised, Indian-born man who heads to India on a quest to understand the circumstances of how he came to be adopted by a white Canadian couple. For Khan, who identifies as Muslim and bi-racial and was born to immigrant parents in Sarnia, Ont., the film was born out of the process of coming to terms with decades of family secrets and pain.
"When I was in university my mum told me that years before she had met my dad, when she was very young, she had a baby and she was forced to put him up for adoption," he explained. "Needless to say, it was a shock but I wanted to support and understand my mum. When I began the process of searching for my long-lost brother, I sketched out the first outline for Khoya. As I tried to come to terms with this hidden family history, I needed a way to work out these complicated ideas of loss and shame. The process of making the film, although it was incredibly difficult, has given me a greater understanding of not only myself, but my mum too."
Khan said that even after he was able to scrape together a budget for the film, he ran into an "insane" number of challenges trying to actually get it made. When he and his team were prepping to film in India, they lost their original lead actor two weeks before production because his visa didn't go through. Then, on the third day of production, religious riots broke out and authorities imposed a total curfew that they had to find very creative ways to work around. But even still, Khan doesn't consider any of those his greatest challenge in getting Khoya made.
"Right now, given the rapid pace of migration and technological change, it's really challenging to feel a sense of belonging."- Sami Khan
"Honestly, for me, the biggest challenge in making the film was battling my own emotions," he said. "I didn't fully realize how much power this family secret had over me and how vulnerable it would make me feel. I had a lot of strong people support me, including Rupak Ginn, who plays the lead of the film. Rupak and I have become like brothers and I cherish our friendship dearly."
At its core, Khan said Khoya is really about "home" and that he thinks that's something that resonates with people across racial and ethnic divides.
"Right now, given the rapid pace of migration and technological change, it's really challenging to feel a sense of belonging," he said. "You live in Vancouver, your sister lives in Halifax, your parents live in Barrie, your grandparents live in South Korea... I hope that for its brief 85-minute running time, Khoya maybe gives people who feel that sense of dislocation a glimpse at home."
Audiences will have more of a chance to do now with Khoya opening at Toronto's Kingsway Theatre on Friday and its run at the Carlton extended into next week