October 2014

by Mike Beggs

“Ma, we are moving to the land of opportunity.”

Protagonist Deepak Chopra makes that fateful – familiar – proclamation at the start of the new lighthearted comedy Dr. Cabbie, upon graduating from medical school in New Delhi.

But in a turn of events many of Toronto’s 11,000 taxi drivers will no doubt relate to, his credentials aren’t recognized when he hits Canada and he winds up behind the wheel of a Co-Op Cab.

“I’ve got more Ph.D.’s in here than Harvard,” snorts Pete, the grizzled garage owner, before handing over the keys to the taxi.

And so begins the frenetic ride that is Dr. Cabbie, the second production by leading actor Vinay Virmani, previously responsible for the Indo/Canadian hockey comedy, Breakaway. This $25-million film was co-produced by Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, and directed by Montreal’s Jean-Francois Pouliot (Seducing Doctor Lewis).

Deepak is hilariously shown the ropes by his driver buddy Tony (played by Kunal Nayyar, of the hit series The Big Bang Theory). But things get serious when a woman (Adrianne Palicki) goes into labour in the back of his taxi in the thick of a traffic jam. When Deepak flawlessly delivers the baby – and Tony posts the photos online – he’s suddenly famous. And his 1974 Checker-style cab is transformed into a medical clinic -- with a prescription dispensary in his glove compartment, and the license plate Dr. Cabbie.

All is well as his mobile practice and relationship with Natalie (the woman who gave birth) develop. But things turn tragic when Deepak talks a young Indian girl out of suicide, only to see her overdose and nearly die on the anti-depressants he prescribed. And his over-the-top Bollywood-style birthday party is rudely interrupted when the cops arrive and run him in. He faces 15 years in prison on three charges, and deportation.

But in Dr. Cabbie, like virtually all comedies these days, the viewer is asked to suspend disbelief and just enjoy. So, conveniently, Natalie turns out to be a lawyer, who represents him and ultimately gets him off with a light rap on the knuckles.

For all the movie’s frolics, the 29-year-old Virmani addresses a serious issue that came to public attention with the 2012 federal study, Who Drives A Taxi In Canada? He says the inspiration for this “cross-cultural comedy” came from a midnight hour Toronto cab ride, in the hands of a driver with physician’s credentials back home and a chip on his shoulder.

He told The Toronto Star he was “really moved” by the driver’s story about seeing his many years of dedicated training to heal others curtly thrown back in his face – and in Canada, where there’s a shortage of doctors!

His film benefits from the star power of Nayyar (who jumped at the outlandish role of Tony, after years of playing the nerdy Raj in the Big Bang Theory), and Khan (an actor, producer, TV host, and philanthropist, known from such Bollywood hits as Saajan, and Karan Arjan).

Khan flew in to Toronto during the Toronto International Film Festival to build up the buzz around Dr. Cabbie, his first international release. He attracted screaming fans as he moved from the red carpet advance screening on August 30, to a live music event outside the SilverCity Brampton Cineplex, to Toronto’s Buskerfest.

In a youtube interview, Khan said he was attracted to the film because it was not typical Bollywood, presenting “a nice mix” between sincerity and comedy, and more of an international feel, with a French-speaking director.


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