When you think of Deepa Mehta, you think of an Indian filmmaker who has successfully carved a niche for herself in the west. And while most wonder why her movies aren’t more mainstream, the director herself likes to refer to her work as commercial. In a candid interview, she answers some questions.
How difficult is it to adapt a book like Midnight’s Children, which is one of the most discussed novels in present times?
Deepa: It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have access to the plot, the narrative and even the dialogues of the book (plus, of course, the fame and notoriety of the novel). Then, on the other hand, you have the inevitable comparison where the fans of the novel expect a facsimile of the same.
Do you think adaptations do complete justice to the original book?
Deepa: There are good movies and bad ones. Similarly, there are good adaptations and indifferent ones. I loved Ang Lee’s take on Life of Pi — a book I was not too crazy about.
What’s your equation with Salman Rushdie? Why did you pick Midnight’s Children?
Deepa: We were friends before we were colleagues. Now we are both! I loved this story of a hapless hero, born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment India gains its Independence and whose life parallels the country of his birth. Ultimately, Midnight’s Children is about the search for a home, a family and an identity. It’s something I can relate to closely.
Why didn’t you shoot the film in India?
Deepa: For two simple reasons. One, that to find the locations in Mumbai and Delhi that reflected what they were in the ’40s and ’50s was next to impossible. The highrise buildings, flyovers, many-lane highways and the monorail would have really challenged us. Secondly, we didn’t want to draw attention to the shoot, and this might have been difficult in India.
We heard there were distribution issues for the film in India.
Deepa: There were no distribution issues . The film is being distributed by PVR.
You do so many films in the west and are an acclaimed director. Why don’t you make films here, for an Indian audience?
Deepa: Fire (1996) was shot in India, as was Earth (1998). The shooting of Water (2005) was disrupted in India and I had to subsequently make it in Sri Lanka. All three films have Indian storylines.
Does commercial, mainsteam cinema not interest you?
Deepa: How do you define commercial cinema? Is Dabangg (2010) commercial and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) not?
What inspires you the most to make a film?
Deepa: It’s always the story that catches my attention. People want to work with you because of the kind of films you make. What is your favoured genre? I’d say drama because I enjoy it myself.
What’s next after Midnight’s Children?
Deepa: Oh, a long break.