Upper Canada College Grade 11 student Adam Sayani honours his father’s legacy in a documentary titled Village of Dreams that will premiere on TVO on July 1 as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations.
“Our film is exploring the entrepreneurial families in the Gerrard India Bazaar,” says director and producer Nina Beveridge of the Toronto neighbourhood known to many as the city’s “Little India.”
“Adam’s father, Alnoor Sayani, who has since passed away, was a very significant member of that business community and built up a restaurant called Lahore Tikka House that’s become a landmark in Toronto and is known around the world in South Asian communities.”
Alnoor Sayani, a Ugandan immigrant of Pakistani descent who came to Canada by way of England as a penniless 15-year-old, launched Lahore Tikka House on Gerrard St. E. in 1996. It soon became more than a restaurant where the large local South Asian population could get a taste of home. It emerged as a hub where these people could come together to celebrate different cultural events while also attracting non-Asian customers in search of a good meal.
“Mr. Sayani was very committed to the idea of bringing together different communities’ members in the bazaar, which has had some Indo-Pakistani tensions, from all the different countries of South Asia,” says Beveridge. “He used his restaurant as a means of bridge-building.”
Village of Dreams focuses on the children of the entrepreneurs who started businesses that have helped create a bustling commercial area full of grocery, jewellery and clothing stores, beauty shops, cafés, restaurants and galleries owned by a diverse group of South Asian immigrants combined with a recent wave of non-South Asian merchants and service providers.
“From reorganizing chairs or bringing the takeout food from the restaurant to waiting customers, it has always been a passion of mine to help out the family business,” says Adam.
“From my past experience growing up with the restaurant, I learned valuable lessons such as the importance of a charismatic personality and proper leadership. These have greatly affected who I am and has been a defining factor of some things I have been able to achieve at UCC, such as head of house of Scadding’s in the upcoming year.”
Lahore Tikka House is now run by Gulshan Allibhai, Alnoor’s wife and Adam’s mother, who left her job as a teacher and social worker in order to run the restaurant after her husband passed away from heart failure in November 2013. She’s also featured in Village of Dreams.
In the one-hour film, Adam talks about what he learned from his father and how the restaurant experience taught him about inclusion and diversity and inspired him to join UCC’s Model United Nations team.
“I have gained confidence in my abilities to start up conversations and generally maintain a cheerful and vibrant nature,” he says. “This is why the UCC Model UN team was an amazing fit for my personality and skill set.
“Having joined the team two years ago and having been able to contribute to wins at the Harvard, Berkeley and McGill competitions, it has enhanced my personality and further improved many of these skills I had instilled at the restaurant. In addition, due to the diverse cultures the restaurant attracts, I have always been intrigued by international relations.”
Adam plans to find a university program that combines his interests in political and international relations and business upon graduation from UCC. Past that, however, he hopes to continue his father’s legacy in the restaurant business if he doesn’t tackle a new idea that he feels he “can take to new heights.”
While Adam doesn’t mention a future career in film or television, he enjoyed being part of Village of Dreams, which also looks at three other families with businesses in the Gerrard India Bazaar.
“Working with the producers and everyone else associated with this project has been a fulfilling and enriching experience,” he says. “It was awesome to share my opinions on the restaurant and its place as a cultural hub in the city of Toronto.
“It was also amazing to get the chance to relate my late father’s dreams of what the restaurant was and could be. Gerrard Street is evolving in the right direction and I am proud that I was able to be part of such a great documentary and story.”
The trailer for Village of Dreams can be viewed here.