Indian-born and Canadian-based writer and director Deepa Mehta has gained international acclaim and numerous awards and nominations for her films. She is probably most famous for her Elements Trilogy, which includes the films Water, Earth, and Fire. Her latest project is an adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which she is directing and adapting with the author.
I'm currently working my way through the trilogy, with plans to write a piece about the films in the not-too-distant future. Her work tends to deal with the experience of Indian women, both in their home country and as immigrants. If you're not familiar with Mehta's work, I strongly recommend checking her out. Here is a selection of her feature-length films.
|Heaven on Earth (2008)|
Heaven on Earth is Mehta's most recent film. It won awards from the Chicago International Film Festival and the Dubai International Film Festival, along with several other nominations, including two from the Director's Guild of Canada. I haven't yet seen it, but here is the description from the film's official website:
When Chand (played by Bollywood superstar Preity Zinta) arrives in Brampton, Ontario to meet her new husband, she leaves behind a loving family and supportive community. Now, in a new country, she finds herself living in a modest suburban home with seven other people and two part-time tenants. Inside the home, she is at the mercy of her husband's temper, and her mother-in-law's controlling behaviour.
After a magic root fails to transform her husband into a kind and loving man, Chand takes refuge in a familiar Indian folk tale featuring a King Cobra.
Although the final film in her Elements Trilogy, Water was the first one I saw. In addition to being a beautiful film, I learned something about Indian culture in the time of the rise of Mahatma Ghandi, and a practice that segregates widows from society that continues even today. There was a good bit of controversy in the making of the film, which took Mehta some seven years to complete--due, in part, to moving the filming to a different country and recasting its leads (be sure to check out the Director's Statement for more on the story). Water was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, won numerous other awards, and garnered even more nominations. Here's the description from IMDb:
In 1938, Gandhi's party is making inroads in women's rights. Chuyia, a child already married but living with her parents, becomes a widow. By tradition, she is unceremoniously left at a bare and impoverished widows' ashram, beside the Ganges during monsoon season. The ashram's leader pimps out Kalyani, a young and beautiful widow, for household funds. Narayan, a follower of Gandhi, falls in love with her. Can she break with tradition and religious teaching to marry him? The ashram's moral center is Shakuntala, deeply religious but conflicted about her fate. Can she protect Kalyani or Chuyia? Amid all this water, is rebirth possible or does tradition drown all?
Somewhat lighter fare, Bollywood/Hollywood is a comedy of marriage, tradition, and identity. Here is the description, again from IMDb, as I couldn't find an official film site for this one. (If anyone knows of the site, please leave it in the comments and I'll update the post!)
Watch the trailer:After Rahul's white pop-star fiancée dies in a bizarre levitation accident his mother insists he find another girl as soon as possible, preferably a Hindi one. As she backs this up by postponing his sister's wedding until he does so, he feels forced to act, the more so as he knows his sister is pregnant. But it's a pretty tall order for an Indian living in Ontario, so when he meets striking escort Sunita who can 'be whatever you want me to be' he hatches a scheme to pass her off as his new betrothed. Things get complicated when his family start to take to her and he realises his own feelings are becoming rather stronger than that.
Earth is the second film in Mehta's Elements Trilogy. The film seems to have won only a single award, and is based on Bapsi Sidhwa's novel, Cracking India. Released in India as 1947: Earth, the film chronicles the division of India and Pakistan. From a plot summary on IMDb:
This story revolves around a few families of diverse religious backgrounds, namely, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Parsi, located in Lahore, British India. While the Parsi family, a known minority in present day India, are prosperous, the rest of the families are shown as struggling to make a livelihood. Things change for the worse during 1947, the time the British decide to grant independence to India, and that's when law and order break down, and chaos, anarchy, and destruction take over, resulting in millions of deaths, and millions more rendered homeless and destitute. In this particular instance, Shanta is a Hindu maid with the Sethna (Parsi) family, who is in love with Hassan, a Muslim, while Dil Navaz loves Shanta, and wants her to be his wife, she prefers Hassan over him. This decision will have disastrous effects on everyone concerned, including the ones involved in smuggling Hindus across the border into India.
Fire, the first film in the Elements Trilogy, is the one set in most recent times. It won numerous awards, including Audience Choice at various film festivals. The film was banned in Pakistan, and later in India for "religious insensitivity" and the depiction of a lesbian relationship.
Here is a brief description from Amazon (but for a more in-depth take read Burning Love from the Bright Lights Film Journal):
Fire is the first film to confront lesbianism in a culture adamantly denying such a love could ever exist. Shabana Azmi shines as Radha Kapur in this taboo-breaking portrayal of contemporary India and the hidden desires that threaten to defy traditional expectations. In a barren, arranged marriage to an amateur swami who seeks enlightenment through celibacy. Radha's life takes an irresistible turn when her beautiful young sister-in-law seeks to free herself from the confines of her own loveless marriage and into the supple embrace of Radha.
Mehta's films not mentioned here include Sam & Me, Camilla, The Republic of Love, and more.
You can read previous Director Spotlights on Allison Anders, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Tanya Hamilton, Nicole Holofcener, and Agnes Varda, and a Quote of the Day on Dorothy Arzner.