Indian-Canadian actor-writer Vinay Virmani’s statement on ‘Little Italy’

Starring Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts, romantic comedy film “Little Italy” was written by Vinay Virmani and Steve Galluccio and directed by Donald Petrie. Virmani also served as the creative producer.

As an actor-writer, Virmani made his feature film debut with the Canadian hit “Breakaway,” which was the highest grossing English language Canadian film in 2011. He was lead actor, writer and producer in his next venture, the 2014 social comedy “Dr. Cabbie,” which charmed audiences across Canada, followed by Canadian comedy “The Steps,” which premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in 2015.

The Canadian-Indian actor-writer executive produced the critically acclaimed “Two Lovers and a Bear,” which premiered at the TIFF 2016. Apart from “Little Italy,” he is currently involved in writing and producing “Lions of the Sea,” a historical drama that deals with an important but neglected chapter of Canadian history.

A finalist on CBC’s Canada Reads 2016, Virmani devotes a lot of his time travelling to schools, talking to high school students and welcoming new Canadians through the Reel Canada initiative. Read his statement about “Little Italy” here:

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places and the idea for Little Italy was no exception.

I’d been wanting to make a romantic comedy in the classic mold for the longest time. I’d thought of and been pitched several ideas but none of them hit the sweet spot.

One day, I came across the words, “pizza wars”. The term intrigued me and stayed with me for a long time. And then, I finally hit upon the connection that I was looking for. The ridiculous and never-ending “pizza wars” between two best friends turned rival pizzeria owners could prove the ideal backdrop for a love story involving their children—a kind of homage to Romeo & Juliet if you will. And this young love story could prove the catalyst that finally puts and end to their epic food feud.

As a proud Torontonian I could think of no better setting for my story than the heart of my city’s historic Little Italy district.

With the love story, the conflict and the setting firmly in place, the crazy and fun-filled journey of “Little Italy” began. Being of North Indian origin, I saw tremendous parallels between my family and culture, and that of the Italians. So all I had to do really, was draw from my own cultural and familial experiences.

Both North Indians and Italians tend to have big families. They live large and love large, they’re loud and proud, they often fight and are always convinced they’re in the right. They’ve big hearts and will always forgive – some easily and others eventually. To them, life is one big celebration to be enjoyed with those you love the most—in other words, your family.

Another big thing that binds our two cultures is food. Eating isn’t just a function, it’s a ritual. It’s taken very seriously and must be done with family. Every Italian and North Indian home has a mama who is deeply loved and respected and who is referred to by her family as “the world’s greatest cook.” Also, we both place great importance on the way the food looks. As the old saying goes, “half the eating is done with the eyes.” And what better place to have a visual feast for the eyes than a movie?

The fact that Italians have big families represented a great opportunity to create a rich pool of supporting characters that would help bring this story to life, with a series of comedic punches and situations that line up one after the other, with little rest for the viewer.

To co-write this screenplay, I could think of none better to collaborate with than screenwriter and playwright Steve Galluccio, best known for the iconic “Mambo Italiano,” “Funkytown” and the TV series “Ciao Bella.” The fact that almost all of Steve’s work is rooted in exploring Italian immigrant behavior and quirks, made him the perfect pick.

Coming to the leads, Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts were obvious choices for protagonists, LEO and NIKKI. Hayden exudes the charm, sincerity and vulnerability so essential for playing Leo. Emma on the other hand, is feisty, funny and fragile; qualities that make her the perfect Nikki.

Donald Petrie has long been known in Hollywood as the Director that owns the romcom genre. I could think of no better choice than the man that directed “Miss Congeniality” and “How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days”; movies that will remain on every Top 10 romantic comedy list there is, for a long, long time to come.

Writing the script was a two-year process and in many ways mirrored the Italian family dynamic—crazy, chaotic, frustrating, dysfunctional, but eventually so, so worth it.

Finally, as a Canadian in the movies, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to showcase the rich tapestry and mosaic that makes our country great—the fact that we’re all Canadians and that we all have unique stories to tell.

Watch the trailer of “Little Italy” here:

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