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Deepa Mehta



Deepa Mehta
film relates to
all cultures
Canadian director's
latest, Heaven on Earth,
tackles the universal
issue of domestic abuse
Oct 25, 2008

SUSAN WALKER                      Preity Zinta is a woman who finds more hell than heaven in
ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER            her arranged marriage in Canada.

From the time when she read Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into
Doors, Deepa Mehta had been thinking about the universality of domestic
abuse and the way that in every culture, families will find a way to hush it up.

In Mehta's new film, Heaven on Earth, Maji is the mother-in-law in the
Brampton home where Punjabi-born Chand takes up her arranged marriage.
She is shocked when her husband Rocky suddenly hits her hard enough to
send her flying – right in front of his parents.

"Don't waste your tears," Maji tells Chand. "This is all part of married life."

Since she started directing films nearly 35 years ago, Mehta has kept one
foot in Canada and one in the country where she was born. Nowhere is that
more evident than in Heaven on Earth, which she wrote after meeting a
woman in Edmonton who, like Mehta, came from the Punjab. (The woman
endured nine years of beatings in an arranged marriage that she ultimately
escaped, then joined the police force to help women like her who were being
assaulted by their husbands.)

Heaven on Earth, now playing, is a stomach-churning depiction of how an
Indian woman suffers in total isolation in a country far from her own. She
withdraws into fantasy, into the story of King Cobra, who could take human
form. In the film, a cobra takes up residence in the frozen Brampton front
yard where Chand finally finds deliverance.
Heaven on Earth: Magic in Mehta's message
Deepa Mehta's masterful new drama of domestic violence fearlessly questions
cultural norms and family values. It is set within an immigrant community,
but the message is universal.

Preity Zinta, a 33-year-old Bollywood mega-star, has made more than 30
films, but has never acted in anything like the movie Mehta wanted her for. "I
was lucky. I met Preity at an awards ceremony in England," said the director,
relaxing with her star at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. "I
took one look at her and I knew she was Chand.

"She really has a social conscience and does a lot of work for women, for
children, for others less fortunate than any of us."

The movie offer, financially less attractive than anything Bollywood might
offer, appealed to Zinta's social concerns.

"This was a huge departure from what I'd done in the past," says Zinta,
whose rise to fame as a cool, stylish beauty began with advertising
appearances in India. She was intrigued enough with Deepa and the script to
sign on.

When it came to filming, though, she had some real fears. "I was more
petrified about how was I going to perform. I was nervous, which was great,
because it made me even more frightened."

Once immersed in Chand's story, she realized something she'd never known
before as an outsider looking in on the lives of women. "It's very different to
step inside that box. It's really tormenting. That was the tough part.''

Zinta found shooting the scenes when Rocky suddenly strikes Chand
immensely difficult. "I've done one love-making scene and this was definitely
more intimate," she says. "This completely shattered me. There were times
when I would go and sit alone and think. Oh my god, I don't want anyone to
see it."

Mehta, observing the cast at lunchtime, noticed how Zinta, very friendly and
approachable, easily bonded with her fictional family members at first. Then
as the film progressed, "I saw that she'd gone to another table and then she
wasn't even eating with everybody."

It was not easy to get into the state of mind Chand is reduced to and even
harder to snap out of it, the actor explains. "It isn't like most of the films we
do, where things are so far-fetched, so far from reality."

The young man who plays Rocky, Vansh Bhardwaj, is a theatre actor from
India who had never performed in a film. Mehta first saw him on stage. She
was looking for someone to bring out the nuances in the character she had

"For me, he's a victim as well," she says. "He has the whole burden of the
family to bear, not only financial, but the expectations placed on a son, to
sponsor everyone to come to Canada and to do back-breaking work. To drive
cabs is back-breaking."

Transformed from King Cobra, Rocky comes to Chand as a kind and loving
husband. It's a scene that viewers in the West will interpret as Chand
retreating into her imagination as a means of survival.

But, says Zinta, "Indians won't even question it. They will actually believe
that King Cobra was the man."


Hear writer/director Deepa Mehta talk about her new film, Heaven on Earth,
this week at one of several Q&A sessions. Admission is on a first-come, first-
served basis.

Friday, Oct. 24
Following the 7:05 p.m. screening at Varsity, 55 Bloor St. W.

Saturday, Oct. 25
Following the 7:05 p.m. screening at Varsity, 55 Bloor St. W.

Sunday, Oct. 26
Noon - Indigo Store, Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor St. W., 416-925-3536

Monday, Oct. 27
Noon - First Canadian Place, FCP Gallery, 100 King St. W., 416-862-6858

Tuesday, Oct. 28
Noon - Mount Sinai Hospital, Sydney and Florence Cooper Family Education
Centre, 60 Murray St., 3rd Floor, 416-586-4800 ext. 7746

Wednesday, Oct.29
Noon - University of Toronto, Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle, 2nd Floor,
Debates Room, 416-978-2196

Thursday. Oct. 30
Noon - University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, 1265 Military Trail,
Science Research Building, Lecture Theatre, 416-978-2196

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