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Supinder Wraich on 'Allegiance' and Not Being Stuck in a Box


Courtesy of CBC

Early on in Supinder Wraich’s career, she booked a job as a scientist in a comedy and when she arrived to tape her first day, she was told to get rid of the blonde streaks in her hair and dye her tresses all black. Their reasoning for this entailed envisioning the character as “a bit more by the book”—coded language to be sure. 


“I was really offended,” Wraich tells The Asian Cut over a Zoom call. “Here's me, a multi-dimensional human, and I wanted to give that to this character. She's not just a scientist—maybe she likes a little bit of fashion or hair or whatever. They just kind of put her in this box, and it was really disappointing. I tried to fight for it. I didn't win and I ended up dyeing my hair black and playing that part.”


Fast forward many years later and Wraich is leading her own television show, playing Sabrina Sohal in the Canadian police procedural Allegiance. Created by Anar Ali, Wraich was grateful that finally, “somebody has written a dynamic Sikh Punjabi woman for me to inhabit,” and she got to work.


Upon meeting with Ali and the show’s writers, Wraich raised the fact that her character’s father, Ajeet played by veteran actor Stephen Lobo, wore a turban and so Sabrina “probably ascribes to the same rules. She doesn’t cut her hair; she has long hair.” And given Wraich’s shorter hairstyle, she asked the room if they should discuss adding extensions to her hair.


“They just took a beat and were like, ‘Well, you're a Sikh Punjabi woman and you have short hair...,’” Wraich recalls with a laugh. “I got caught in my own box.”


It’s a moment familiar to many racialized actors and creators: finding the balance between being true and authentic to cultural traditions, while reconciling with the fact that we’re also not one-dimensional individuals simply defined by those norms. “I personally know Sikh Punjabi men who wear a turban and drink alcohol,” Wraich remarks. “And it’s that contrast of character that makes people interesting—I believe in this and I subscribe to this, but I also do this.”


What makes Allegiance a standout among many procedural shows is Ali’s ability to show a family on-screen who showcases this contrast without explanation. In the series, the Sohal family has been in Canada for multiple generations; so naturally certain customs may disappear over time, such as Sabrina’s brother, Ishaan (Adolyn H. Dar), not wearing a turban, or Sabrina being the torchbearer of her father’s police legacy rather than Ishaan.


Courtesy of CBC

For Wraich, this added an interesting texture to how she approached Sabrina as a character. Having been born in India, Wraich identifies with the immigrant experience of being an Indian-Canadian, whereas, “Sabrina really doesn’t. She’s just like, ‘I’m Canadian to the hilt’ until she has to face [her father being charged].”


In the first episode of the series, Ajeet, a former police officer turned politician, is arrested for acts of treason and throughout the eight-episode first season, questions arise as to the actual motivations behind his detainment. And while Sabrina and Ishaan work towards exonerating their father, Sabrina also begins her own policing career paired up with Corporal Vince Brambilla (Enrico Colatoni) as her training officer. 


In the early days of Sabrina’s training, colleagues make it clear to her that her assignment and early success are simply due to affirmative action-like box-ticking to ensure the police force’s diversity quota. Vince doesn’t subscribe to these notions, almost to a point of overcompensating colour blindness; at one point in the series, Sabrina pointedly says to him, “You know that I’m not white, right?” 


Courtesy of CBC

“I bawled my eyes out when I read that,” Wraich shares. “This is still a conflict for me. I don't think that I could go to somebody and have this conversation yet. I have so much insecurity about being different, because I remember [when I moved here], being in an ESL class and unable to speak English. I have that trauma around being other-ised.”


Through Sabrina, though, Wraich has explored what it means to have a distinct ancestral pride that comes with living in a different country, especially as she raises her son in Toronto. “I’m actively teaching [my son] Punjabi, and it's not coming from a place of fear of losing the language, but a place of love of keeping the language,” Wraich explains. “Whereas with my parents, it was very much you have to go to Punjabi school because we are afraid of losing this thing that we came from.”


She continues, “I've come full circle with it. And I think that the way that Ajeet Sohal has raised Sabrina, is with that same sense of pride. There is no shame attached to who we come from and our differences — that takes a generation or two to get to that level of confidence.”

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