By Lori Gilbert
Record Staff Writer
December 13, 2009 12:00 AM
Param Gill can still see the audience at the Independent Black Film Festival in Atlanta rising in unison and cheering after viewing his first feature-length film, "Rockin' Meera. "Two years later, his film about a black rapper who gathers his friends and travels to India to reclaim his fiancée, who's been spirited away from San Francisco and is being forced into an arranged marriage there, will soon be available to Stockton moviegoers. The release will be the first viewing opportunity for Stocktonians who don't happen to be Gill's patients. The writer, producer and director of "Rockin' Meera" is a full-time dentist who founded Gill Dental Group.
"The best ideas I get from my patients, by talking to them," Gill said. "Then I screen my films for my patients. "He listens to their feedback and adjusts accordingly. The material they provide is for his next planned film, "Dentist 3D," which Gill calls his favorite project. Given the fear people have of dentists, he said the topic is ideal for a horror film."And I haven't seen a good dentist horror film in a long time," he deadpanned. Lines like that slip easily from the 33-year-old native of India who arrived in the U.S. in 2001 to attend the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, N.J. He graduated in 2003, and he moved to Modesto, the first place he found a job opening. "Once I got here, I really loved it," Gill said. "It's very close to the state of Punjab, where I hail from: the open valley, agriculture. My father's a farmer.
"His father, who grows wheat and rice, is proud of his dentist son, not so much of his film-making son. After establishing his dental practice, though, Gill soon yearned for more. "It gets to a point where your life gets very mundane, boring, so I thought I would do something creative," Gill said. "Dentistry is a form of art. It was a natural thing to go for something in the field of art." He doesn't recall the moment when he hit on filmmaking, but he enrolled in a course through the New York Film Academy, which involved long-distance work and classes on the lot of Universal Studios in Southern California. While taking his course, he began writing "Rockin' Meera". "They said to do what you know," Gill said. "The thought came to me that I know the Indian culture and I know the African-American culture (from living in Newark), so let's work with them. That's how it came to be. "He put up the $1.5 million with help from friends and investors, used Screen Actors Guild actors and hired an experienced cinematographer, an experienced Bollywood crew and established Indian actors.
Returning to India in 2006 to shoot his film wasn't entirely a happy homecoming. He and his American actors got sick from the water. The set was not harmonious. The cultures clashed, just as they did in Gill's story. "We had (actor) Fatso Fasano, who's a big guy," Gill said. "We were filming and one of the Indian actors said something about him being fat and he got upset. Bad words were said and he left the set. In India they say what comes to mind. Here, they don't do that much improvisation. They stick to the script. "Gill put in 16-hour days smoothing ruffled feathers, coaxing sick performers along, teaching established Indian performers about being faithful to a script, and improvising when plans fell apart, such as when a train didn't arrive on time for a shoot and he was forced to move the scene to a bus. The experience taught him humility. "Sometimes ego can destroy a day's work," Gill said. "It doesn't matter if you get along or not. You just bow your head and keep moving. "The work is different from dentistry". As a dentist, if I'm doing a root canal or fixing an implant, it's just me and the patient," he said. "The only thing that can go wrong is maybe if the patient isn't opening wide enough or something. I can put something there and open it. "Actors aren't as pliable. Neither are distributors.
Finding a distributor that would release his film the way he envisioned was as difficult for Gill as making the movie. He made it for a black audience, but when the audience in Atlanta gave "Rockin' Meera" a standing ovation, Gill thought "this should go out there to a broader audience. "Distributors he met wanted to skip a theatrical release and put it on DVD. The dentist frowned on that approach and stood his ground. Finally, Net Effect Media, based in Los Altos, agreed to market and distribute the film to theaters. "From the distributor point of view, our business, what money you put into advertising you want to get a return. From that point, most distributors found 'Rockin' Meera' a risky proposition," said Kapil Sethi, who owns Net Effect Media, which primarily distributes independent films. "He showed the film to me, and I thought it had potential if the film was marketed properly. "Sethi released the film initially in 15 theaters across the country and will rotate it into other theaters over the next three to four months. From here it will be released in the United Kingdom, Europe and India, although Indian response will be muted, Gill said, because the Indian doesn't get the girl in the end. The success of Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" has made Indian films more popular with non-Indian audiences, and Sethi anticipates "Rockin' Meera" returning about $500,000, which "translates to 50,000 to 60,000 people seeing the film, which is pretty good for an independent film," Sethi said.
The film ran in Modesto last week, but Gill, who now lives in Ripon didn't sit with audiences to gauge their reaction.He was finishing filming "Hotel Hollywood," a horror film. "It's a thriller set in hotel about a wedding gone horribly wrong, a typical Indian wedding," Gill said with the laugh that comes easily. He experienced audience reaction to his film when he took it to film festivals, though, and it motivated him to make more. "You write jokes, and the audience laughs at your jokes in front of you: It's the biggest kick of any kind," Gill said. "I don't know anything that compares to it. "The thrill won't lead him to quit his day job, though, because it, too, offers him rewards. "I love dentistry. I could never abandon it," Gill said. "Even if I became a successful filmmaker, I would still do dentistry. It gives me a different pleasure, treating patients, having predictable outcomes, having them happy."Besides, he needs their stories to continue making his stories.
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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