It’s not easy to strike a conversation with Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta. She undertakes challenging,edgy dialogue duels just like in her body of work. Her oeuvre ranges from the rousing trilogy Fire,Water,and Earth,her directorial debut Sam & Me,the warm road movie Camilla,her moving portrayal of NRI marriage and its aftermath,titled Heaven and Earth,and the latest,Midnights Children,based on Salman Rushdies novel that won the Booker Prize .
That the last opened to mixed reviews doesnt faze Mehta. I am an artiste,I make and deliver. Also,my films never get complete reactions,but five years later,they become iconic works of cinema, says Mehta,as she eases herself into a chair in the business lounge of The Taj Chandigarh. She was in town for the screening of Midnights Children as part of the Chandigarh Literature Festival at The Taj.
Wearing her salt-and-pepper hair long and wild,along with her patent red sneakers,Mehta feels labels do a great disservice to cinema,finds controversies boring and dodges the adaptation police. She is working on another adaptation,though,called Exclusion based on the book Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Its about adoption,mothers and daughters,and unfolds in India and San Francisco. It will release next year, is all the filmmaker will reveal.
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Komagata Maru,her much-awaited magnum opus,is still on hold. This is one story I want to take time with,for it involves enormous research,logistics and details. Everything has to be accurate and beautifully told,and I dont want to shoot it in a studio. I want to shoot it on real waters in Japan,Kolkata and Canada, she says.
Turn the page back to Midnights Children,and Mehta says she always wanted writer Rushdie to pen the screenplay. He had refused,but I insisted,for only he could do justice to the story, she says. This was a book she grew up with,with its stories of the Partition and upheavels such as the Bangladesh war. I was in first year of college when I read Midnights Children,and I found it pathbreaking. It brought out the importance of nation as a family, she says.
The danger of conflict,of losing a seven-year friendship with Rushdie was ever-present as they worked on the film for,according to Mehta,no two people are ever on the same page. But her conviction paid off. I am attracted to talent,to sensible work and cinema,and dont like to dilute it, says the filmmaker,who chooses not to offer any explanation or sell her films as vehicles of change.
While India fuels her with passion and stories,its Canada where she finds a way to give her subject a cinematic expression. Ive had my share of controversies,and I am bored of them. These are just hooks for stories, she says,with a laugh.
Born and raised in Amritsar,educated in Delhi,married in Canada,Mehta says shes never had an identity crisis. All this guts and courage,I attribute it to my Punjabi blood, she says,with a smile. No,she is not thinking making any Punjabi film. Labels again. I did watch a Punjabi film,Anup Singhs Qissa starring Irrfan,and it is brilliant, she says.
She also agrees that Hindi cinema in India is in an exciting phase active in the festival circuit,buzzing at the Oscars,and full of new-age ideas. Festivals are great markets,while the Oscars get the most press. Its high profile and important,so why not be a part of it? she asks. Mehtas hawk eye scans the Indian cinemascope and fixes on filmmakers such as Dibakar Banerjee for his wit and imagination,Vikramaditya Motwane for being poetic and brilliant,and game-changer Anurag Kashyap.