Heaven on Earth: The Films of Deepa Mehta!

Heaven on Earth: The Films of Deepa Mehta!

Renowned for such films as Fire, Earth, Water, and her epic adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Deepa Mehta receives a TIFF Cinematheque salute with this retrospective.

Highlighting Deepa Mehta’s Films at Toronto International Film Festival. 



The first part of Mehta’s Elements Trilogy became a flashpoint of controversy for its depiction of same-sex desire within a tradition-bound milieu. Sisters-in-law Radha (Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das) belong to a family of entrepreneurs whose affairs are run by the manservant Mundu (Ranjit Chowdhry), who uses his employers’ video store for his lucrative side business of renting (and enjoying) porn. Neglected by her husband (who prefers the company of his mistress), Sita finds solace in her friendship with Radha. Gradually, the relationship between the two women deepens — but when Radha uncovers Mundu’s shady schemes and demands that her husband fire him, it leads to disaster for all. When Firewas released in India, theatres showing the film became a target of attacks by right-wing religious elements, leading the censor board to withdraw the film on the grounds of “religious insensitivity”; Mehta herself led a protest march in New Delhi in the name of freedom of expression, which resulted in the film’s being returned to theatres two months later.

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The second part of Mehta’s Elements Trilogy, Earth takes place during the traumatic Indian Partition of 1947, when the British government split their former colony into the predominantly Hindu and Sikh India and the primarily Muslim Pakistan — an ill-advised decision that opened the door to widespread sectarian violence, with an estimated million people killed during the ensuing battles over relocation. Set in Lahore and narrated by a young girl who cannot understand the momentous events happening around her, Earthobserves how the conflict over Partition plays out within a love triangle involving a beautiful young Hindu woman (Fire‘s Nandita Das) and her two Muslim suitors (Bollywood/Hollywood‘s Rahul Khanna and Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan). Based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Cracking India (making it the only film in the Elements Trilogy not based on Mehta’s own original script), Earth is a moving and phenomenally well-crafted historical drama.

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Carte Blanche: The World of Apu introduced by Deepa Mehta! 


The moving, heartbreaking, ultimately uplifting final film of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy chronicles the young hero’s surprising marriage, the tragedy that befalls him and his young bride, and his eventual emotional and spiritual rebirth.

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In Conversation With… Deepa Mehta!


Deepa Mehta was born in Amritsar, India, and studied philosophy at the University of New Delhi before immigrating to Canada. Her features include the Festival selections Sam and Me (91), Fire (96), Earth(98), Bollywood/Hollywood (02), The Republic of Love (03), Water (05), Heaven on Earth (08), Midnight’s Children (12), and Beeba Boys (15).

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The final film of the Elements Trilogy and one of Mehta’s most beloved works, Wateris set in an ashram where a group of widows, ranging in age from seven to seventy, are confined to live out the rest of their lives after the deaths of their husbands.

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Following her ill-fated first attempt to shoot Water on location in India, Mehta returned to Toronto and shifted gears with this delightful romantic comedy, which features some eye-popping dance numbers inspired by the Bollywood films of Mehta’s youth. Wealthy Rahul (Rahul Khana) is being pressured by his mother to marry, and she even declares that his little sister’s impending wedding will be delayed until Rahul himself gets hitched — and with his sister’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy becoming more and more evident, the clock is ticking down to family disgrace. When Rahul meets the beautiful and assertive Sue (Lisa Ray) at a bar, he hires her to pose as his fiancée so that his sister’s wedding can go forward, but real love soon intrudes upon the fake engagement. Buoyant, effervescent, and full of sharp insights into the lives and culture of second-generation Indo-Canadians, Bollywood/Hollywood was Mehta’s biggest box-office hit to date.

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Sam & Me!


Mehta’s first feature received an honourable mention at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival and went on to open the Toronto International Film Festival later that year. Seeking to escape being pressed into marriage by his mother, Nikhil (Ranjit Chowdhry) accepts an offer from his uncle to work in Canada at a hospital supply company. When he arrives, however, he discovers the true nature of the job: he’s to serve as the companion and minder of the company’s senile patriarch Sam (Toronto stage legend Heath Lambert), who is determined to return to Israel. Unexpectedly, these two fish out of water form a fragile but resonant bond, which manages to infuriate both of their respective extended families. A portrait of émigrés both old and new, who are caught between family, tradition and their own dreams, Sam & Me struck a chord both domestically and internationally and announced the arrival of a major new voice in Canadian cinema.

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Mehta’s most sweet-tempered film, Camilla follows two women as they embark on an impromptu road trip from Georgia to Toronto. Living in seclusion on an island, former concert violinist and perpetual free spirit Camilla (Jessica Tandy) befriends the visiting Freda (Bridget Fonda), a young musician/composer who has given up on her dreams. When Camilla expresses a desire to reunite with her long-lost love in Canada, she and Freda hit the road, with Camilla’s film-exec son (Maury Chaykin) and Freda’s insensitive husband (Elias Koteas) in hot pursuit. In her final performance, the legendary Tandy has a blast as a woman who spins the wildest and most absurd tales with absolute conviction, and she has a wonderful last-act scene with her real-life husband Hume Cronyn; meanwhile Don McKellar and Graham Greene pop up in hilarious cameos.


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The Republic of Love!


Adapted from the beloved novel by Carol Shields, The Republic of Love is one of Mehta’s most charming and overlooked films. Bruce Greenwood plays popular Toronto radio host Tom, whose one major flaw is that he falls in love too quickly; Emilia Fox plays Fay, a researcher who fears commitment because she believes that no relationship could possibly measure up to her idealized view of her parents’ marriage. Tom and Fay click immediately, but when unexpected and emotionally catastrophic events threaten their future together, Tom has to convince the ultra-cautious Fay to finally take a risk. Boasting a stellar supporting cast — including Gary Farmer, Martha Henry, Jackie Burroughs, and Edward Fox (leading lady Fox’s real-life father) and Claire Bloom as Fay’s parents — and offering a uniquely romantic vision of Toronto, The Republic of Love is a delightful mixture of magic realism and absurdist romance.

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Heaven on Earth!


A searing study of culturally tolerated domestic abuse, Heaven on Earth boasts a no-holds-barred performance by Bollywood star Preity Zinta as Chand, a young woman who leaves her caring family and idyllic Punjabi home to marry Rocky (Vansh Bhardwaj), a young man living in Brampton, Ontario. It soon becomes clear to Chand that there’s something very wrong with her new situation. Living with Rocky and his extended family in a small house, Chand becomes a prime target for her husband’s stress and frustration as her venomous mother-in-law encourages her son to resolve any discussion or dispute with his new bride physically. Driven to desperation, Chand seeks refuge in fantasies inspired by the folk tales told to her by her mother. Mixing stark naturalism with magic realism, Heaven on Earth is one of Mehta’s most daring films.

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Midnight’s Children!


An irreverent epic of Shakespearean proportions, Mehta’s adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel by Salman Rushdie (scripted by the author himself) charts the destinies of a pair of children born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment that India claimed its independence from Great Britain. “Handcuffed to history” and switched at birth by a nurse in a Bombay hospital, Saleem Sinai (Satya Bhabha), the son of a poor single mother, and Shiva (Siddharth Narayan), scion of a wealthy family, are condemned to live out the fate intended for the other. Imbued with mysterious telepathic powers, their lives become strangely intertwined and inextricably linked to their country’s journey through the tumultuous twentieth century. Brimming with romance, spectacle, intrigue, sly social commentary and uplifting optimism, Midnight’s Children is “appropriately grand…. With lush color and meticulous detail, periodic bouts of magic realism, and wide-eyed performances, [Mehta] creates a veritable cinematic monsoon of postcolonial dream storytelling” (Chris Chang, Film Comment).

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