Published Sep 04, 2008In the opening scenes of Heaven on Earth, we learn that Chand (Preity Zinta), a young Indian woman, will move to Canada for an arranged marriage. Because all of the characters are dressed in traditional Indian clothing, and because the concept of an arranged marriage is so anachronistic to the average Western filmgoer, these scenes look and feel like part of a period piece. Immediately after, we see Chand applying make-up in a modern airplane bathroom and the contrast is jarring.
In films like Water, Deepa Mehta has often contrasted the role of Indian women in modern society with their role in the traditional cultural family unit to devastating effect. And with Heaven on Earth, she has made one of her most powerful films.
Arriving in Canada, Chand finds that her husband is depressive and irritable, and physically abuses her without provocation. When she mentions his beatings to a co-worker, she is told to grind a particular root into his drink, which will supposedly make him love her forever, but eventually proves to have unforeseen consequences.
Mehta directs with supreme confidence and is unblinking in her depiction of domestic abuse: the violent scenes are harsh and startling, filmed by Mehta with unsettling intimacy. Preity Zinta, a veteran of fluffy Bollywood concoctions, infuses her performance with surprising depth and pathos, and Vansh Bhardwaj is imposing and effective in a disturbing role.
Some may complain when the story takes a supernatural turn but this is one of the rare films this is completely unpredictable. (Mongrel Media)