“We’re not trained actors—it was a big adjustment”: A Q&A with the charming family starring in the new docuseries Bollywed

“We’re not trained actors—it was a big adjustment”: A Q&A with the charming family starring in the new docuseries Bollywed

Their back-to-back episodes air Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC TV and stream for free on CBC Gem

Courtesy of CBC; photos taken by Rakesh Sidana

The iconic Little India bridal store Chandan Fashion has always stood out with its vibrant cyan-and-magenta façade. Its owner, Jatinder Pal Singh, a.k.a. Kuki, has been chatting up potential customers since 1986, when he first set up shop on Gerrard Street. Over the years, Chandan Fashion has become a destination for brides, grooms and families who want South Asian styles for their wedding day. They now have their own line of accessories, jewellery and glitzy party wear, and they’ve even catered to celebrities like Priyanka, the first winner of Canada’s Drag Race. Helping Singh run the brand are his wife, Sarab, their two kids, Chandan and Chandni, and the newest member of their family, daughter-in-law Roop.

Now, the Singhs have become the stars of their very own reality TV show, Bollywed. The first episode of the 10-part series was launched on CBC Gem on January 12. We caught up with the family to talk about their work, their show and what it was like to open up their lives to Canadian audiences.

How did you come up with the idea for a show based on your family business?

Chandan:In 2015, the co-creators and producing partners of the show, Carolyn Meland and Gurjeet Mann of HeartHat Entertainment, shot a sizzle reel with our family and shopped Bollywed around for the next seven years. Even with all the rejections they faced, they never gave up on the project, and in 2021, they re-pitched it to the CBC, which came on board as a production partner and a great champion of the series.

In your work, you are always interacting with people—customers at your shop and at trade shows and events. So you can’t be shy, but to have mics and cameras following you around is something else. What was it like?

Sarab: It was different. For years, I had a simple life, working and taking care of our home and the kids when they were young. Now, suddenly, there’s so much exposure. It felt strange at first.

Chandni: We’re not trained actors. So it was definitely a big adjustment. Overwhelming but also fun and exciting because we had a lot of say in our storylines and what we wanted to showcase in terms of our projects. For example, because inclusivity is important to us, we did a photoshoot with a uni friend of Chandan’s who is a South Asian influencer from the LGBTQ community. We want our shop to remain a safe space for everyone.

Roop: There’s also a scene where Dad is asking Chandan and me about grandkids, and that’s a big part of our culture. If we were going to do the show and be authentic with our audience, then we really wanted to address these kinds of personal issues. And so we talked about that on camera.

Jatinder looked like he was having a lot of fun. He’s quite the star…

Roop: Dad struggled with not being able to greet customers at the front door while we were filming. He’d be upstairs shooting a scene and want to go back down to the store to lock in a sale. So, as soon as we would finish filming, he’d zip out.

Jatinder: I enjoyed the experience and thank the CBC for it. You know, when I was younger, back in India, people used to look at me and say, Why don’t you join the movies? So finally God has listened. I am in front of the camera. Also it’s good for business when your picture is on a billboard on the side of the highway.

Did you ever feel like you had to bring the drama?

Roop: I’d say we just lived our everyday lives but were mic’d up and on camera. Our film crew was respectful and didn’t try to create dramatic storylines. They just followed us along. We recently saw the first three episodes, and it is very true to our story. We’re happy with it.

Chandan: I don’t think we need any additional drama, honestly. Follow our family for a few weeks and there’s lots of masala that will happen organically.

Each of you seems to bring your own strength to the business. How have you learned from one another?

Sarab: I think we have always been united as a family and we have always been able to find a solution that satisfies everyone. Sometimes dad has different views from his kids. So I will try to bring another perspective.

You often act as the peacemaker.

Sarab: Yes. If there are two stones and we have to fit another stone in between, we have to adjust and move both stones a bit to make space for the third. I also think all three of the kids are very intelligent. I don’t need to tell them anything. If there’s something in the air, an idea, they catch it. All three of them have this good quality.

Chandan: Mom and Dad bring a lot of experience to the table, and that gives us confidence. Whenever we’re in a situation where we’re not sure about something or where we need help, they make it easy to reach out to them.

Roop: What keeps me going is how hard Mom and Dad work. Dad approaches his work religiously. There’s a word in Punjabi, shiddat, meaning “passion.” That’s his attitude toward work. For example, being late is not an option, being absent is not an option. You just have to do your work with honesty. And, like Mom said, when we get together to face a problem, there’s going to be a solution.

Running a successful family business for so many years can’t have been easy. What’s your secret?

Jatinder: Teamwork and family unity. In the past, when my kids were young, my friends would say, “You should expand, open more stores,” but I wanted to focus on my children. And now the kids are opening another store in Brampton because the business has become so big. I feel that the business is as established as it is today because of the ideas that the kids come up with. Chandan is promoting the business on social media, and I see so many people ordering online because of the videos on there. If you listen to the new generation, there will be progress. My father had a garment shop in Punjab called Kuki Silk. My store, similarly, is also for my children. It is to fulfill their dreams, and they are the ones who will take it forward.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.