EXCLUSIVE: Kal Penn (Designated Survivor, Harold & Kumar franchise) has signed on to produce and star in Stampede Ventures’ biopic Superfan, which will tell the story of Nav Bhatia, a decades long follower of the Toronto Raptors, who last year became the first fan inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame. Penn will play the Toronto man whose loyalty to the Raptors saw him honored with a championship ring, and leading the team’s championship parade in 2019.
Bhatia has long used the game of basketball to bring people together and has an inspiring life story. He came to Toronto as a penniless Sikh immigrant, there navigating a tough journey through racism and bigotry, before establishing himself as the most prolific car salesman and dealership owner in all of Canada.
Over the years, basketball became a friend and passion for him, to the extent that he has never missed a Raptors home game. He shares his passion every season through philanthropy and education, enabling underprivileged kids from across the country the opportunity to attend Raptors games through these efforts. He also funds and organizes the Baisakhi halftime show once a year in April on the Raptors’ court, giving many Canadians an opportunity to celebrate Sikh New Year together. (CBC will unveil Superfan, a separate documentary on Bhatia’s life, this month.)
Stampede Ventures’ Greg Silverman and Jon Berg won the rights to Bhatia’s life story in a competitive situation. They will produce the Superfan biopic alongside Penn and Dan Spilo of Industry Entertainment, with Rinku Ghei of Yellow Mango Films exec producing. The producers are currently in search of a writer and director for the project.
“I’m speechless. To have the opportunity to continue to tell my story with such esteemed producers is a dream. Then to find out Kal Penn has been brought on to play me is even more surreal,” said Bhatia. “This is not something I can even dream of. He is one of my favorite actors and to know he also loves basketball is an added bonus. I’ll be teaching him all my tricks of the trade when distracting opposing players!”
“I’ve been researching and following Nav’s incredible story ever since I saw him at a Raptor’s game the year we started filming Designated Survivor in Toronto,” said Penn. “The crowd loves him – to see what a source of pride he is for Canadians – and all basketball fans, really – makes me smile. His story is one of unity, which I’m especially excited and proud to bring to life.”
“Nav has trusted us with his story — one that empowers others to believe in themselves, and to follow their dreams even when the road ahead is challenging,” added producers Berg and Spilo in a joint statement. “It’s an honor to share his passion and journey on a global scale.”
Penn is an actor and author who served in the administration of former President Barack Obama. He’s perhaps best known for turns as Kumar in New Line’s Harold & Kumar films, and in series including Clarice, Designated Survivor and House. The actor was recently set as the male lead of Belated, an FX comedy pilot written, directed and exec produced by Peter Tolan. He’s also appeared in series including Sunnyside, The Big Bang Theory, Battle Creek and 24, along with such films as Superman Returns and Van Wilder.
Stampede Ventures is an independent entertainment media company founded in 2018 by Silverman, who previously worked at Warner Bros. Studios for almost two decades, rising to serve as President of Creative Development and Worldwide Production. The company’s lead investor and co-chairman is Gideon Yu, former CFO of Facebook and YouTube, and co-owner of the San Francisco 49ers.
Recent releases from the company include the coming-of-age dramedy Pink Skies Ahead, starring Jessica Barden, which premiered in May following its sale to MTV Studios, and the comedy special Mo Willems & the Storytime All-Stars Present: Don’t Let The Pigeon Do Storytime! on HBO Max, which received two Daytime Emmy nominations. It’s also currently at work on the animated feature Prince of Port au Prince from Wyclef Jean at Netflix; Mo Willems’ CGI animated rock opera, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Underground Rock Experience, which will debut on HBO Max next year; Morgan Neville’s Netflix documentary, Curveball; and Lionsgate’s Ordinary Angels, which is scheduled to enter production in March.
Penn is represented by UTA, Industry Entertainment, Herring PR and Fuller Law.