Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta says there will be no barrier to her latest film Heaven On Earth because it is in Punjabi, as domestic violence has universal resonance and audiences across the globe can relate to it. This was evident at the recent Toronto Film Festival where the film got a standing ovation.
"This was the film's first public screening. And no one saw it as an esoteric film in a regional Indian language," Mehta told IANS.
The film is about domestic violence in the immigrant community in Canada and stars Preity Zinta in the lead role.
Mehta is nonchalant about the language and added: "Punjabi is as Indian as Hindi or English. In fact, last year it was Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear that was shown at the Toronto Film Festival.
"Though I'll dub Heaven on Earth in Hindi for some areas in India on the producer's insistence, I think audiences all over the world would read the Punjabi characters in Heaven On Earth without prejudice, just as Priyadarshan's Kanjeevaram was appreciated in the Tamil language."
Mehta says she will dub Heaven On Earth in Hindi because the film's Indian distributor Ravi Chopra thinks the film will have wider reach in Hindi.
"I've to respect Mr. Chopra's opinion. He and his father, the illustrious B.R. Chopra, understand the Indian market much better than I do. They've earlier distributed my film Water," said Mehta.
Set in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, Heaven On Earth is the story of a Ludhiana girl, Chand (Preity), who moves in after marrying Rocky Grewal (Vansh Bhardwaj) only to find herself locked in a loveless marriage, and a life of beatings and torture by her husband and in-laws. Chand's journey into hell begins the moment the naive girl lands in Canada, which is considered heaven in Punjab.
At the Toronto Film Festival screening, the film had audiences glued to their seats even as the end-titles rolled by.
"Everyone just sat in their seats when the film ended. I thought, 'Oh oh, this one is a dud'. But when we got a 10-minute standing ovation, I understood the 18,000-strong audience didn't move because they were so moved. I think Heaven On Earth connects with an international audience even better than my previous Water, which was short-listed for an Oscar, for the simple reason that domestic violence has more universal resonance than the plight of widows," said Mehta.
Preity impressed the audience as the battered wife at the festival.
"She scored with both the Indian and non-Indian audience. The NRIs were floored to see her deglamourised avatar in Heaven On Earth. And the firangs first saw her as this scared-timid-withdrawn abused wife and then at the festival dos she appeared in a flaming-red gown as the chic suave diva - the Preity that Indian audiences know," said Mehta.
In terms of quality and connectivity, this year's Toronto Film Festival has been the most productive for Indian cinema at any international festival in recent times.
Mehta was bowled over by the films with Indian themes.
"Not just me, but everyone was stunned by the films from and about India this year. My dear friend Nandita Das, who has been part of two of my most important works 'Fire' and '1947 Earth', wowed Toronto with her directorial debut 'Firaaq'. Nobody said it was a good first-time attempt. They looked at Nandita's film as a work of great wisdom and experience... that's how good her debut is."
Mehta also can't stop raving about Priyadarshan's paean to the sari weavers in "Kanjeevaram".
"It is such a powerful document on human resilience. Every frame is as intricately woven as one of those saris that the Kanjeevaram weavers pore over for months and months. I had seen only one film 'Viraasat' by Priyadarshan earlier. I was completely floored by 'Kanjeevaram'. It's one of the best films to come out of India in recent times."
The festival this year was the first festival that Priyadarshan ever attended.
"Maybe the Indian presence at international festivals has begun to make some sense now."
The other film that Mehta fell in love with is Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire". Set in Mumbai, the film revolves around a Mumbai slum kid Jamal who wins a fortune on a reality quiz show. It bagged the top People's Choice Award at the film fest.
"It takes an extraordinarily compassionate look at Mumbai. Nobody can accuse Danny Boyle of being patronising towards the city. In fact, the Indian films this year went beyond cultural paradigms," she said.