Just the other day when I was searching the Indian DVD section in my local library I came to a full stop at the letter W. Not because that’s pretty much the end of the alphabet, no the movie Water by Deepa Mehta started pulling me in. The movie I perhaps most often recommend to my friends when they ask me “what Indian movie shall I watch” “well, what do you want to see, light or substantial?” If they are in for some serious cinema, I will advise them to start with Deepa Mehta’s trilogy, Earth / Water / Fire in the same breath that I will recommend Satyajit Ray’s films. If he is the Guru, she is his worthy disciple. In the last few years I have watched so many Indian films, but none had a greater impact than Satyajit’s Apu trilogy and her films. Mainly Water ( 2005) and Earth( 1998).
sometimes you wonder about the trajectory of an artist and you ponder the circumstances of their lives when you look at their work, absorb their essence, listen to the stories they tell.
Deepa Mehta’s artistic view has been colored by her roots as much as her Western influences; unabashed, women-centric, strong and willowy. Willowy is probably not the best adjective to describe a filmmaker’s oeuvre, but when I lean back and think about her work enmeshed with her personality, somehow the image of a cornfield comes up in my mind, don’t ask me why. I see a strong wind bending down the stalks in unison and how they fling back after the wind has past. Her films are about that life force, the tragedies that almost tear you up but somehow miraculously you will survive. There is sadness, there is resilience, there is forgiveness, there are silences and storms. Then we pause and exhale.
Water is an award winning movie about an 8 year old widow in Varanasi, who finds refuge among a group of other widow-outcasts in a temple, amidst one of them who tries to escape a destiny of solitude, condescension and exclusion, portrayed brilliantly by Lisa Ray.
Earth is a story about a young nanny told from the perspective of the young girl, who she is looking after, living in Lahore before and during the tragic days of the partition in 1947, where racial and religious biases suddenly emerge in the aftermath of the imperialist British rule when random borderlines are drawn between the newly formed Pakistan and India.
One of Deepa Mehta’s earlier movies is very light-hearted in comparison. Hollywood/Bollywood (2oo2) with the enchanting Lisa Ray and young, handsome Rahul Khanna, who plays a spoilt brat/ rich heir kinda guy who thinks he will outsmart the wishes of his demanding Indo Canadian family who of course want him to marry a nice Indian girl.
Heaven on Earth, (2008) another strong women-centric statement, is the story of Chand, a young Punjabi woman, who travels to Canada to marry and finds herself in an abusive relationship, starring Preity Zinta – in her best role to date.
Maybe the heaviest caliber yet to come is the cinematic adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which Deepa is filming right now. What a powerful joining of forces, one of our finest, iconic writers and one of our bravest filmmakers! The much-anticipated movie might be released in the fall of 2012.