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Heaven on Earth

February 21, 2010

I came across a cinematic gem this week, one that I very nearly missed out on. Heaven on Earth, an oddball Canadian film that has won international accolades, received very little comment when it was released in India. This is unfortunate, because it is definitely one of the finest films on the Indian diaspora.

This magical-realist tour-de-force blends a story of immigrant experience with fairy tales and mysticism. Chand comes to Canada from Punjab, married to a man she has never met, and into a troubled family. The pressures of immigrant life have made her husband an angry, abusive man. A Jamaican co-worker tries to help Chand out with some magic, and this leads to a series of incredible events, involving snakes who take the form of humans.

Deepa Mehta suffuses each frame of Heaven on Earth with a quiet sense of doom. Every film of hers carries a deep empathy with women, but she has clearly outdone herself in this one. Preity Zinta is stellar in the lead role, of course, but even the minor characters are finely sketched out. The neurotic mother-in-law draws you into her inner insecurity, while the sister-in-law blows hot and cold, and remains forever elusive.

Even in the most outlandish parts of the story, the film remains gritty and frighteningly real. The quiet voice of Chand, escaping into a private world by reciting Punjabi poetry, will haunt me for a long time to come.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 9:04 am

    I also caught up with this one only recently.

    At first, I was caught off guard by the poetry and ‘magic realism’. But then I was so glad that it was there, because otherwise the film might have been a bit too straightforward and conventional.

    Having said that, I didn’t like how small idiosyncrasies became whole plot points like the…

    SPOILERS

    …bit about the love-potion and the jarring image of the cobra. I would’ve preferred those just being throwaways.

    I also was more invested in the husband character, before we were presented with his bizarro version. After that, he became less character and more device.

    I admit, I did have a hard time getting through all the Punjabi, so my opinion might change on a second viewing with subtitles.

    All in all, an interesting experience. This might have made for an interesting podcast!

    (Perhaps some time on Skype? A revival, maybe, hmmm? Hint! Hint!)

    • Avinash permalink*
      February 22, 2010 9:26 am

      yes! you have no idea how much i’d love that.

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