Videsh (Heaven on Earth): Movie Review

Cast: Preity Zinta, Vansh Bhardwaj
Director: Deepa Mehta

Heaven on Earth isn’t exactly the plight of protagonist in this film, rather completely contrary to it. The alternate Hindi title Videsh is too generalized, misleading into the notion that Indian woman in NRI families are essentially victims of domestic violence, as is the theme of the film. It’s as difficult to relate with the titles (even on an sarcastic note), as impossible it is to connect with the treatment of this film (even after metaphorical decoding).

Apparently based on real-life events of two Indian victims of spousal abuse in Canada, Heaven on Earth initiates highlighting domestic violence reminiscent of Jagmohan Mundhra’s Provoked . But since Deepa Mehta wants to steer away from the ‘Don’t-hit-me’ and then, ‘I’ll-hit-you-back’ kind of liberating experience approach, she seeks additional inspiration from Girish Karnad’s play Naag Mandala and, in process, goes completely tangential to the theme. So, while addressing the issue of marital abuse goes for a toss, a clone of the oppressing husband comes into illusionary existence in the form of his doppelganger, which reminds of Shah Rukh Khan’s Paheli that you always wanted to forget.

Chand (Preity Zinta) migrates from Punjab to Canada to be the part of a family, absolutely alien to her. She marries Rocky (Vansh Bhardwaj) who is overburdened with responsibilities in his overcrowded house. Chand turns out to be the punch-bag of all his family frustrations, which he vents out through physical abuse.

Homesick in foreign land and hopeless of affection from people around, Chand begins to fantasize another version of her life inspired from tales of Indian mythology about a King Cobra. As the snake takes human shape in her hallucinations, she fancies blissful moments with the imaginary but loving clone of her violent husband.

Deepa Mehta scores in establishing credible characters of the Canadian Punjabi family with members that are neither sugar-sweet nor melodramatically bitter. Especially effective is the mother who is extremely insecure of losing her son to his wife. Everyone, including the two kids from the family, are open witness to domestic violence and remain absolutely indifferent towards the act. The violence is not blared up but, after the first resounding slap, surfaces more through anticipation.

But the film clearly loses its audience when metaphorical mythological concerns overpower the underlying theme of domestic violence. In fact you start wondering if abuse was actually the theme, since the film doesn’t offer any solutions to the issue. Rather it imparts shades of gray to the supposedly black victimizer.

On the much-misused excuse of Kafkaesque filmmaking, the proceedings go abstract in the pseudo intellectual arena. The screenplay is not just dreary but the dialogues go dramatically ludicrous, as Chand mouths verbose excerpts of sermons from her mother’s fairy tales, at the most unexpected and unlikely situations. The reptilian reflection of the unreal husband in mirror that dates back to classic Nagina-Nagin variety of potboilers only invites ridicule. The climax, seeking individual interpretation, is equally absurd.

The pacing is lethargic and the story takes too long to kick-start. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens intermittently applies black-and-white frames to highlight some scenes from others but follows no particular theme, making the exercise futile.

Preity Zinta adds vulnerability, grace and poise to her character. Vansh Bharadwaj suffers from shallow characterization. Balinder Johal as the insecure mother and cold-blooded mother-in-law is efficient.

Deepa Mehta chose to be daringly different in all her earlier ‘element’ary outings including Fire, Earth and Water but never lost her connect with the audience. She tries a bit too hard to be deliberately different here and it shows. Heaven on Earth turns into a hell of a viewing experience.

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