Toronto Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia's inspirational life story documented in new film

The world premiere will be shown in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      This evening (November 20), the Toronto Raptors' second-most famous fan—after Drake, of course—will be feted with a movie screening Vancouver.

      That's because Good Karma Studios and We The West Festival are hosting the world premiere of Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story at the Vancouver Playhouse.

      Bhatia has attended every Raptors' home game in its history. He also runs the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation, which builds basketball courts and camps for kids in Canada and other countries.

      The film features interviews with comedian Russell Peters, former NBA superstars Vince Carter and Isiah Thomas, and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

      When the Straight reached Bhatia by phone in Toronto earlier this week, he revealed that he hadn't seen the film yet.

      "People are telling me it's a very good movie," Bhatia said. "They're coming out crying. So there must be something good and emotional in the movie."

      His life story is certainly enough to stir the heart.

      His parents moved away from what is now Pakistan during the horrors of Great Britain's partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.

      Upward of a million people were killed in communal violence in the period leading up to this event, according to Jacob Bercovitch and Richard Jackson's International Conflict: A Chronological Encyclopedia of Conflicts and Their Management 1945-1995.

      Bhatia's dad was from Lahore and his mom was from Sialkot.

      "I remember her saying she came in a train with people loaded on the roof," Bhatia said. "She had one baby and was expecting another. And she saw the killing. You know, people coming and killing with the swords. It was horrible."

      After settling in Delhi, the family worked extremely hard and built up a thriving business. But the communal violence exploded in a fury again in November 1984 in genocidal attacks on Sikhs following the assassination of then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.

      She was killed by two Sikh bodyguards four months after she ordered an Indian army attack on the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, Punjab.

      The massacres of Sikhs in many cities were organized by senior Congress Party officials.

      "My father barely made it," Bhatia said. "They were going to put a burning tire on him."

      His family's business and home were burned. He described this as his family's "second partition". He was 33 years old at the time.

      "Nothing was safe either in the home or even in our gurdwaras," Bhatia recalled. "After that, we wanted to, as a family, get out of India. Me and my wife were the first ones to come to Canada, this beautiful country."

      The Nav Bhatia Foundation raises funds through the sale of products like this to support basketball programs and camps in different countries.

      Success through hard work

      Life was tough at the outset. They settled in a basement suite in Malton, Ontario. According to Bhatia, the rent was $340 per month and he was initially unemployed, even though he was a trained mechanical engineer in India.

      "I did cleaning, janitorial, landscaping, and then I got into the car business as a salesman," he said.

      But then he encountered what he described as another "speed bump" in life.

      Colleagues at work used racial insults, such as "Paki" and "towel head", to describe him. He found it odd that he would be called a "Paki" when he hailed from India, not Pakistan.

      "I decided I had to work harder than hard to be successful in this environment," Bhatia said. "With God's grace and hard work, I became the top salesperson in the country by selling 127 cars in three months, which was a record and still is a record."

      He moved up the chain, becoming a manager, general manager, dealership principal, and ultimately came to own five dealerships.

      "I think for the first 20 years I worked almost 100 hours a week," Bhatia said.

      Video: Watch the trailer for Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story.

      CBC will show film on December 3

      Nowadays, he gives back to the community through his foundation. In 2019 when the team won its first NBA championship, he was the grand marshal of the parade and received a championship ring from the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Larry Tanenbaum.

      This year, Bhatia became the first fan to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

      Bhatia insisted that he's "not a political person in any way or form", but he acknowledged that he's been on the side of Indian farmers who were protesting for a year in his hometown of Delhi before winning a resounding victory over the government.

      "I just want to bring the people together with the game of basketball," Bhatia said. "That's what I'm doing."

      The film will be shown on CBC and CBC Gem on December 3.

      At the age of 16, Bhatia promised to his mother that he would not cut his hair in order to pay respect to Sikh traditions. He also pledged not to drink alcohol or smoke.

      While it hasn't always been an easy road through life, he's kept those promises.

      He's proud of the example that he is setting for young Sikhs when they see him in his turban having so much fun cheering on the Raptors. He's heard young people tell him that if he can do this, they can do that, too.

      Bhatia visits Metro Vancouver once or twice a year. That prompted the Straight to ask him which city has better Indian food: Surrey or Toronto.

      In true diplomatic fashion, he replied that the best Indian food is from his wife's kitchen.

      But he also admitted to loving the dinners he's had at Tasty Indian Bistro in Surrey and downtown Vancouver.

      "They have amazing food," Bhatia said with a laugh.

      Comments