Deepa Mehta loses direction halfway into the film
By MovieTalkies.com, 28 March 2009
Deepa Mehta goes the Jagmohan Mundhra route with Videsh Heaven On Earth.The film is quite reminiscent of Mundhra's Aishwariya Rai starrer Provoked, which also spoke about domestic violence, but with a difference. Unlike Provoked, in which the female protagonist finally hits back, in Videsh, Mehta does a curious mix of mythology and magic realism, which proves to be the film's undoing. In her endeavour to be different, Mehta dabbles in mythology, inspired, like she said in an interview, by playwright Girish Karnad's Naagmandala. From a woman who has made films which are otherwise quite rooted in reality, this strange twist that she imparts to this movie is quite inexplicable. The film suffers as the story of the protagonist does not move towards a satisfactory conclusion. In fact it would not be wrong to say that the theme of the film almost seems to change and it no longer seems to be just about domestic violence.
What redeems the film, however, is the performance by Preity Zinta as the battered Punjabi woman. There is a certain vulnerability about her, which manages to cut across all boundaries and touches one's heart. Her portrayal of the battered woman, living in constant fear in an unknown land, cut off from her loved ones, is the heart and soul of the film. As for the rest, there is little that Preity can do to redeem that movie, once Mehta introduces the cobra into the narrative, inspired by Karnad's play.
The story is basically about a young Punjabi girl called Chand who leaves her home in Ludhiana and comes to Canada, to live with her husband Rocky (Vansh Bhardwaj) and his extended family live. The director does not go into the details of why the family is the way it is and why they turn a blind eye and ear to Rocky's insensitive bashing of his wife, day after day. Not only is Chand isolated from her family back home (she is not even allowed to make a phone call) she is even forced to work in a laundry and not allowed to keep even a part of her earnings. Rocky, burdened with the responsibility of large family, takes out his frustrations on his wife and uses her like a punching bag. One of Chand's co workers at the laundry, Rosa, gives her a magical root and asks her to mix it in a drink, so that her husband would fall in love with her. But the attempt does not work. That's' when the director introduces the myth about the King Cobra, who takes the form of Rocky and gives Chand, the loving tender care that she desires.
The director is likely to lose the interest of her viewers once she introduces the King Cobra, who behaves quite like Shah Rukh Khan's character did in Paheli. But till before this point in the narrative, she manages to build up her film brilliantly. She captures the Punjabi household and its denizens with absolute authenticity. The screenplay is taunt and the director uses utmost economy in creating the right ambience for her film. Her vision is assisted by the camerawork of Giles Nuttgens. But one loses the connect once the snake enters the movie.
At the end, all that lifts the film is the grace and dignity with which Preity essays her part. She has undoubtedly turned in one of her best performances in this movie. Vansh, who plays the role of the frustrated Rocky, is good but his character seems to have no other dimensions except for being frustrated. Balinder Johal as the mother in law is quite impressive.
In short, the film makes you wonder about Mehta's intent. It is clearly not just to show domestic violence and its victims. With the introduction of the snake motif, Mehta tries to be different, but all she ends up doing is confusing the issue and that is not good news for the film.