Dear Jassi is based on the shocking true story of an honour killing in India with a Canadian victim: Jaswinder Kaur "Jassi" Sidhu. Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, director of The Fall, returns to the Toronto International Film Festival with a tragic story that he has been waiting 23 years to make, according to his post-premiere Q&A. This film also marks the Punjabi director’s first to be set in his home country of India.
With a tender romance at its core, Dear Jassi is anchored by the warm, sweet, and naturalistic performances of its star-crossed leads. Pavia Sidhu plays headstrong, ardent, and brave Jassi, a young woman visiting her family in India, while Yugam Sood plays handsome, quiet, and broad-shouldered Mithu, a rickshaw driver and local sports star. These exciting new faces bring a refreshingly realistic and winsome romance to life.
The film languidly charts the course of Jassi and Mithu’s tender courtship, which builds over longing glances from rooftop to rooftop one summer before developing quickly over handwritten letters and phone conversations. The film derives levity from their communications in different languages as well as the head-over-heels-ness of young love, which draws immediate comparisons to Romeo and Juliet.
Dear Jassi also takes an unflinching look at the brutality, hatred, and evil bubbling beneath the surface of a particularly regressive corner of society. Driven by patriarchy, misogyny, and strict tradition, Jassi’s wealthy family (which manages to fill a mansion in Punjab as well as British Colombia) turns quickly against its vulnerable young women for daring to fall in love with a poor and uneducated outsider. And the system supports them, with corrupt police officers ready to do the patriarch’s violent bidding for a bribe.
By the film’s inevitable and bone-chilling conclusion, in which the director reveals more through sound than sight, viewers are given a reminder of the countless other honour killings that have occurred and likely have been swept away into oblivion by a world run on out-of-control corruption and unrelenting misogyny. This terrifying realization sharpens the tragedy of Jassi’s case, which is still being brought to justice today.