Festival Daily

By Hailey Eisen

As I enter Deepa Mehta’s home in the picturesque Annex neighbourhood, I instantly feel at ease. The zen-like ambience is created in part by her cozy decor (family photos, beautifully woven carpets and colourful artwork) and also by her serene disposition. Though journalists are being ushered in one after another on this late August day, Mehta is completely composed.

A Toronto International Film Festival-veteran, Mehta says she loves how the city is transformed for this 10-day celebration of cinema. “You can feel the energy,” she says. “Torontonians are such film lovers that they take time off work to participate.”

With her latest cinematic achievement, Heaven on Earth, in this year’s Festival, Mehta expects to be incredibly busy. “Most people who come to Toronto for the Festival are so tied up with screenings that they don’t have time for much else,” she says when I ask her to recommend some neighbourhood sites Festival-attendees should visit.

A little probing results in some fantastic suggestions. For those looking to escape the hubbub of stargazing and party-going, Mehta offers up the recommendation of a neighbourhood yoga studio where she practises regularly. “If anyone likes serious yoga that’s the place to go,” she says of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre (77 Harbord Street).

Once you’re feeling the power of Om, the next stop might be a nearby spa for a quick mani-pedi or an invigorating facial. Easily accessible to many of this city’s finest hotels in the heart of Yorkville, Aveda’s Paul Pecorella Hair Salon and Spa (106 Cumberland Street) offers a full menu of spa services. “There is also this wonderful Ukrainian woman named Luba who works out of The Beauty Supply Outlet (415 Bloor Street West),” Mehta says.

Having lived in the area for 10 years, Mehta adores the fact that she can walk almost everywhere she needs to go. Just down the street there are two fantastic book stores, Book City (501 Bloor Street West) for new titles and BMV (471 Bloor Street West) for a huge selection of used books.  

When she is too busy to cook – especially during the Festival – Mehta often opts for Indian takeout. “The very best in the city is Natarãj Indian Cuisine (394 Bloor Street West),” she says. “It’s perfect for a quick meal between films.”

Though it would be easy to carry on like this for hours, I am reminded of Mehta’s very busy schedule as her mobile phone rings for the second time. Sitting in the presence of such a celebrated and passionate filmmaker, I’m anxious to learn where she draws her inspiration. 

“An idea for a film is like a seed that you have with you for years,” she says. Partially inspired by a book Mehta once read by Roddy Doyle called The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Heaven on Earth addresses challenging issues of isolation and abuse. “It’s a serious film,” Mehta says. “But it’s also about magic.”   

An old Indian folk tale about a cobra is delicately woven through the narrative, which focuses on an Indian family living on the outskirts of Toronto and the beautiful Chand (played by Preity Zinta) who moves from India to marry.

“For me it’s really not a film about abuse in Brampton, but about the use of imagination to deal with a horrific situation,” says Mehta. “That’s what saved her, that’s what helped to break the cycle of violence.” 

Though the subject matter is certainly weighty and thought-provoking, Mehta says they laughed a lot while making the movie. “Just imagine trying to urge a snake out of its hole in minus-20-degree weather.”

She and her crew spent four days shooting in India, but the majority of the film is set right here in Toronto. Having moved to Canada from India after studying at the University of New Delhi, Mehta knows what it’s like to miss the colours and smells of home. “I love Canada as much as I love India – but I always miss India.”

She adds, “When I first arrived here I had freedom; it’s not always so easy for working-class families.”

Mehta laughs when asked if she makes films with the intention of inspiring debate. “I make the films I want to make,” she says. “But if someone walks away saying ‘I loved it,’ and someone else says, ‘I had a problem with it,’ then you have a real conversation – and that’s always good.” 

Sept. 8, 3:00pm, AMC 7