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Kal Penn to produce, star in biopic of beloved NBA Hall of Fame ‘superfan’

“The crowd loves him — to see what a source of pride he is for Canadians — and all basketball fans, really — makes me smile,” Penn said.
Kal Penn in 2019.
Kal Penn in 2019.Nathan Congleton / NBC

Actor Kal Penn announced he’ll produce and star in a biopic about Toronto Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia.

“Superfan,” the upcoming film by Stampede Ventures, will chronicle the story of Bhatia, played by Penn, who began going to Raptors games in 1995 and went to every single home game until the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. 

“His story of perseverance & unity is incredible, & I’m super excited to bring his super fan story to the (super?) big screen,” Penn tweeted. 

Bhatia, a local celebrity in Toronto, became the first fan to be inducted into the NBA Hall Of Fame this year and the first fan to be awarded a championship ring. “I went to every game. I cheered the most. Everyone noticed this turbaned guy,” he said in a 2014 TEDtalk.

“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,” Bhatia told Deadline.

Bhatia, who is Sikh, grew up in India and later immigrated to Canada. 

Despite his mechanical engineering degree, Bhatia told CTV News he “couldn’t get a job because of the turban and beard.”

He eventually found work as a car salesman, going on to become one of the most successful salesmen and dealership owners in Canada. During his TEDtalk, Bhatia said he endured racial slurs and even had employees resign when he entered management.

Basketball became a passion for him and he now spends more than $300,000 a year to allow underprivileged children from across Canada to attend Raptors games. “I want these kids to integrate with each other during the young age so they don’t have to go through what I went through 30 years ago and it’s working,” he said during the TEDtalk.

He also funds and organizes two Raptors home games each season to “change the perception of Sikhs in the mainstream” — one that celebrates Diwali and another that celebrates Vaisakhi (the Sikh New Year), giving many Canadians an opportunity to celebrate together. 

“I’ve been researching and following Nav’s incredible story ever since I saw him at a Raptors game the year we started filming "Designated Survivor" in Toronto,” Penn told Deadline. “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.”

Penn is an actor known for his roles in the “Harold & Kumar” franchise, “How I Met Your Mother” and “House.” He recently published his memoir, “You Can’t Be Serious,” in which he detailed his life and announced his engagement with his partner of 11 years. He was also a former White House staff member in the Obama administration for two years.