You are an award-winning documentary filmmaker, tell us more… how did you come upon this calling?
I would say filmmaking chose me. I had no dreams of making a film, but art had always been a big part of my life. I was quite content making a generous annual salary in a stable job with loads of perks and winning the approval of my parents and society.
But something inside me switched on when I started working for the WorldSkills Competition in 2009. I became obsessed with making a documentary, I couldn’t think about anything else. So, I traded the cushy job to start at the bottom of the film production ladder. I loved it! At the time, I didn’t even know what a script was, so I was learning every day. My dream at that time was to make a single film, and I’ve now made eight.
Looking back, it was a form of personal leadership and activism - standing up for my deepest desires, initiating my healing journey from my head to my heart, making art from life, stepping out into the unknown.
I fell madly for the medium of documentary film – with its many layers of camera angles, music, story, narration, production design, and portraiture - as a way to deliver a contemporary spiritual and social message.
Tell us about your family, it was so cool that your son joined us at the photoshoot.
I’m so glad you enjoyed that! My son and dog go everywhere with me. I’m a single mother, no nanny or family in town, so some of it is just a necessity. But I do love it – letting him see and experience these moments of victory (and struggle) with me, and the amount of work that goes into a photo shoot or anything of value.
I owe a lot to my son. I was raised to pursue an education and career. I didn’t even know I wanted kids. Something major changed in my body and brain when I had my son. I went from thinking my way through life to feeling my way. I didn’t really know I had feelings until I gave birth.
Actually, art, family, and feelings have always gone together for me. My first film was about my father, a Punjabi driving teacher and monk-like man in Mill Woods, Edmonton. He passed away unexpectedly after the film was released. The whole process taught me so much - to trust the bigger picture and timing, the spiritual power of storytelling, and the importance of documenting stories before it’s too late.
Later, I went to India with my mom to research my maternal lineage for a film. The stories I uncovered gave me courage when I was feeling paralyzed with fear to leave my marriage.
You’ve spoken about trauma, personal trauma, and now you work with others by providing a healing service. Tell us more about this.
I think the reason we are so drawn to art and stories, particularly movies and music, is because it’s one of the most powerful sources of emotional release. More than religion. More than talk therapy. All of us are craving a place to feel, to cry, to release our pain, to feel seen. Why? Because of our trauma.
My point is there isn’t a person in the world without trauma. I want to normalize it, and normalize emotional pain, and the choice to heal. There is still a lot of “othering” - we like to think trauma, pain, grief, mental patterns, even addiction as OPP - other people’s problems.
Even now, there are many who want to turn away from the racial pain. We all have racial and gender trauma, and biases. When we commit to healing these biases, we transform these wounds into leadership.
In some ways, those who hit rock bottom are further ahead because the moment of decision is so clear - it’s often a choice between death or recovery.
For the rest of us, in the high-functioning cohort, we have the luxury of not facing our pain, pretending everything is ok, putting off change, hiding, because our addictions are socially sanctioned and encouraged – sugar, stress, likes & social media validation, over-drinking, over-spending, over-eating, co-dependency, porn, workaholism, our phones. The rest of us continue to tempt fate with our addictions, in denial of how much they control and influence us. If you don’t believe me, try giving one of these up for 90 days. Why do we need these numbing tools? Our unhealed trauma. Our unmet needs.
I am here for this cohort!
I like Dr. Gabor Mate’s definition of trauma – it’s not just the bad things that might have happened to us, but also the good things that didn’t happen to us.
If you had an idyllic childhood, then you had this other thing called school. If you got through that, we have this other thing called the opposite sex. If you got through that, then we’ve got this thing called a toxic culture that allows a black man to be killed slowly and mercilessly in broad daylight by a white man who is hired to protect, while other white people in authority watch. No one should be feeling “fine” in the world we live in.
And what’s beautiful is there’s a spiritual order and balance to our trauma. Our wounds are often where are gifts are born, our mission, our art, our parenting values. Without accepting our pain, we can feel void of our higher purpose and direction.
Every industry, business and family needs trauma-informed leaders.
Can you share more about how your personal journey caused you to help others?
I call myself a healing journalist. My films have always had this healing component, stories about healers and thought leaders. The films I made were designed to soften people.
After my divorce, I became the story. I invested over $50,000 in myself and went through my own healing journey - softening, editing, firewalking, surfing, chanting, boundary-setting, de-armouring.
I found something in coaching that I did not find in traditional therapy. It was more holistic, more energetic, and less clinical, often offered by people who had gone to their own depths and embraced their shadow. Coaching de-mystified to me the mechanics of how our thoughts create our reality and were more results-oriented.
I decided to combine coaching with the healing elements I discovered in storytelling. I’m helping people to shape and edit their life story. Every human, as they heal, has a voice and story the world desperately needs right now.
Is Calgary home? Why?
I was born in Ottawa, but Alberta has been home since grade 2! I don’t really feel like I belong in Calgary anymore, energetically. I offer that in case others feel that way too. Most of the people I work with are in the US and UK.
What did you love about HK, which piece was your favourite?
I think every woman gets to a point in her life where she’s like F’K unnecessary pain! HK is for that woman. The clothes feel luxurious, effortlessly elegant, and so pleasurable on my skin. I loved the Chemise Dress, I felt so sexy in it and so myself.
We noted that you speak 4 languages, wow, impressive. What is your favourite language of them all?
French! My Indian culture has taught me a lot about spirituality and leadership, but my year of living in France taught me pleasure!
You’ve been a pillar in the volunteer community – film, media, arts, and an avid fundraiser. Tell us more about those roles, your accomplishments, and how it is has transformed your work?
Thank you. I have always had this thing inside me, to use my life and voice for the greater good. Example of leadership. It’s what my parents modelled for me.
Having done a liberal arts degree, I was very open to any job that presented itself after university. What presented was working for the city’s leading fundraising professional, raising $8.5 million to build Shaw Millennium Park. Then from there, raising $40 million for another social project. Let’s just say these skills have served me well.
Being the daughter of immigrants, a child of divorce in a culture that still finds it taboo, having very eccentric parents, and having been through pretty traumatic experiences as a young child – all this made me very strong, as well as highly sensitive towards the marginalized in society.
I think the marginalized do end up becoming the best leaders, with the right financial and emotional support, because they have both the compassion and courage.
But then, it can be very lonely (and scary) in leadership, to be going against the grain, to be going first, to be standing up for what’s right and not easy. So, I think in all these roles, I’ve sought to provide the nutrients of personal attention, validation, and emotional support that I craved as I stood out on a limb.
What has been most interesting in your work with men and women about the power of the feminine, can you share with us what that work is and what people achieve by working with you?
We are all sitting on a gold mine – our own personal stories. Our stories have both sacred and commercial value.
I am deeply humbled by men who are willing to be led. Who have honestly assessed where they are not leading themselves in their own life, where they admit they need new skills and knowledge for the new world and sign up for help. This is the true definition of leadership to me.
My work with men usually centres on finding parts of their story that could make a huge difference in establishing more trust – either with their feminine partner or in their business. We all agree about the importance of trust, but what are the mechanics?
I help men tease out times in their life when they have faced psychological death and shown superior moral courage. There is also a huge gap in male mentorship – younger men need to hear these stories of inner strength to understand what being successful and becoming a man actually entails.
With women, it’s teasing out the details and specifics of her story that would inspire and influence others, and help others feel safe and seen. Women have the most remarkable stories, but we often say things like ‘Why would anyone be interested in my story?’
As women, it’s crucial we share our stories. If you think about it, it’s only by hearing other women’s stories where we actually get to learn. This sacred inner work does naturally lead into commercial expression – branding, business biographies, content storytelling, fundraising, and positioning.
The weekly coaching is also very impactful. It’s amazing what some customized, positive attention and consistent accountability can do for our motivation and confidence. Oh, the distance we can go in just 90 days with a good coach!
And finally, at this time in history, I also lovingly point out privilege. It’s the benefit of working with a woman of colour.
So, during this lockdown, are you missing travel? What is the most fantastic place you have traveled to? Where would you go first?
I would go visit my clients! They are in Seoul Korea, London England, Houston, Bend, Bangkok, New York, Malibu, Toronto, Kenya and Brazil. Or bring them all together to hang out with me in Morocco! They are the best people who I deeply respect.
If you were the Mayor of Calgary, what would you do next?
Mayor of Calgary? Oh my gosh, I would spend all my time having deep conversations with everyone that no roads or schools would be built! I would be in Council Chambers, curious about every detail of people’s stories, bawling my eyes out with them.
But I would love to become a resource for politicians, entrepreneurs, and teachers. When you impact these people, you impact thousands of minds and thousands of decisions.
What’s next for you Punam, what film are you working on?
The story I want to tell now is the story we are living in at this moment in history. The story of both men and women rising to meet the new world. And it is a new world.
Do you think this is the time of the feminine, is this our decade, our moment?
The time of the feminine has been slowly unfolding since 2015, and our time has arrived! There are so many female leaders rising to the occasion!
And we are leaning into a new kind of leadership – one that starts with energy, radical self-care, emotional intelligence, brave vulnerability, a willingness to risk privilege for the greater good. These are the new currencies of trust.
Any tips for us on TV, movies, books, podcasts, music? We are always working on our library.
My TV selections are currently dictated by Disney+
Movies – anything by director Ava DuVernay
Podcast - “You Made it Weird” - it’s a comedian interviewing other comedians about big life questions.
If you had one wish for your son, what would it be?
To embrace art and emotion, when math and logic seem easier to grasp.
What is the one thing that you’ve set your sights on to achieve … that’s still in progress and what do you need to make that happen, from those around you? What is your ask?
We have dipped our toe into conversations about power and privilege. It’s damn cold, uncomfortable water. We will only progress when we build our capacity to swim in these waters.
We automatically trust white people. People tend to trust people who look like them. White people are more visible. We are also conditioned to affirm our commitment to whiteness, even when results are at times, abhorrent.
On the flip side, we are conditioned to distrust women and people of color. We scrutinize them and hold them to different standards, to higher expectations, than white people and men. Did you read my answers today or tune me out?
We will need to overcome this conditioning - our automatic, unconscious, inbred responses - and take chances on new leaders. Give them the same time and resources to develop as the dominant populations have received without as much scrutiny.