Heaven on Earth



Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO - Deepa Mehta's latest film, "Heaven on Earth," could easily have settled for being a domestic melodrama about marital abuse in the Punjabi community in her adopted city of Toronto. But instead the Indian-born writer-director moves into the realm of the imagination and magic realism to concoct a strong artistic statement about the powers of the mind. The film will resonate in Indian communities throughout that vast diaspora, but will have to settle for the art house elsewhere.

Bollywood star Preity Zinta - who certainly won't hurt the film's penetration with its target audience - plays a young woman who travels from India to Toronto for an arranged marriage thrown together in too much haste.

It's soon evident that her new husband, Rocky (newcomer Vansh Bhardwaj), was pushed into the marriage by a domineering and interfering mother, just as the woman's own family saw the Toronto family as a means to slowly sponsor her brothers' immigration to the New World. The immature young man's reaction to this unwanted wife is physical violence, which no one does much to stop.

A Jamaican co-worker (Yanna McIntosh) at her factory job - this too a demeaning comedown for a college educated woman - slips her a magic potion to make her husband fall in love with her. He merely gets sick. But this time though the woman has sought mental refuge by imaging a world of safety where snakes, powerful symbols in Indian mythology, can protect her and magic can hold wickedness at bay.

The story then is of a woman finding her identity and self-confidence amid domestic tyranny. Mehta even demonstrates empathy for the young man despite his villainous actions. Both young people suffer from too much family; both are trapped into doing what is expected of them. And the "boy," as an Indian family would call a bridegroom, chafes at all the responsibility without any honor or true respect.

Mehta is for the most part operating with her usual crew from many shoots both here and in India so technical aspects of this relatively low-budget film are very good.

Production companies: Mongrel Media, Hamilton-Mehta Productions, National Film Board of Canada.
Cast: Preity Zinta, Vansh Bhardwaj, Gick Grewal, Geetika Sharma, Yanna McIntosh.
Director/screenwriter: Deepa Mehta.
Producer: David Hamilton.
Executive producers: Ravi Chopra, Silva Basmajian, Deepa Mehta, Sanjay Bhuttiani.
Director of photography: Giles Nuttgens.
Production designer: Dilip Mehta.
Music: Mychael Danna.
Costume designer: Rashmi Varma.
Editor: Colin Monie.
Sales: Mongrel Media.
No rating, 106 minutes.