Films & Schedules

  • Heaven on Earth

  • Deepa Mehta

Punjabi, English
106 minutes
Colour/Black and White / 35mm

Production Company:
Hamilton-Mehta Productions Inc./National Film Board of Canada
Executive Producer:
Ravi Chopra, David Hamilton, Silva Basmajian, Deepa Mehta, Sanjay Bhuttiani
David Hamilton
Deepa Mehta
Production Designer:
Dilip Mehta
Giles Nuttgens
Colin Monie
Sylvain Arseneault
Mychael Danna
Principal Cast: Preity Zinta, Vansh Bhardwaj, Gick Grewal, Geetika Sharma, Yanna McIntosh

Canadian Distributor:
Mongrel Media

Saturday September 0606:00PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN) Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Monday September 0803:00PM AMC 7 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

Opening with an ecstatic, vibrantly coloured celebration marking the impending nuptials of Chand (Bollywood star Preity Zinta, who delivers one of the year's finest and most courageous performances), Deepa Mehta's powerful and visceral Heaven on Earth quickly shifts gears. The minute its heroine gets off a plane in Toronto to meet her new husband, Rocky (Vansh Bhardwaj, who's impossibly good in his first film role), the colour scheme greys, and virtually all scenes (even outdoor ones) appear to be lit by fluorescent lights. This twilight world is fitting, because there's something off-putting about Rocky's family.

Deepa Mehta has always had a particular gift for portraying unique families and their subtle power dynamics. Still, Heaven on Earth may be her strongest work to date because of her insistence on the collective liability for the acts of a lone individual. Rocky's coldness and horrific temper may be the primary causes of Chand's unhappiness, but he has numerous – albeit often passive – accomplices, most importantly his domineering mother.

Desperate and unable to contact her family, Chand turns to a fellow factory worker, Rosa, who gives her a magical potion that will make whomever drinks it fall in love with Chand immediately. With this elixir, Mehta injects an element of magic realism, and the film morphs into a portrait of Chand's deeply divided mental state. It is an inspired and audacious strategy. Mehta and her collaborators further exacerbate the sense of unease by invoking the elements of domestic comedy: the precocious kids, the ineffectual, aging patron, and the nosy, pushy mother. But while the recipe for conventional, chaotic marital happiness is present, everything is off-kilter. Pranks aren't funny, they're malicious, and ineffectiveness turns into tacit approval.

Simply put, this is a brilliant work by one of our most daring filmmakers, humanist and empathetic even toward its villains, yet at the same time a universal indictment, refusing to let any of us off the hook.

Deepa Mehta presents her 1991 film Sam and Me in the Festival's Dialogues: Talking with Pictures series this year.

Cameron Bailey

Deepa Mehta was born in Amritsar, India, and studied philosophy at the University of New Delhi before immigrating to Canada. Her feature debut, Sam and Me (91), received a special mention in the Caméra d'Or competition at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. After directing Camilla (94), she started on her elemental trilogy about India. She completed Fire (96) and Earth (98) before returning to Canada to make Bollywood/Hollywood (02) and The Republic of Love (03) while production on Water (05) was suspended due to protests. Heaven on Earth (08) is her most recent film.

Cadillac People's Choice Award