SOMETHING ABOUT CANADA: An interview with Deepa Mehta

Deepa Mehta In Profile by Nettie Wild, National Film Board of Canada

In this short NFB interview with Canadian Director Deepa Mehta she comments that there is something about Canada, the physical and emotional space that gives the Indian born director “room to breathe.”

“Canada has its own values, which are very different from the values I grew up with and I like that conflict as well.”

Deepa speaks on how she uses the Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian instructional text for artists and performers, as the base for her actors’ character development process.

A grid of the 9 “pure” emotions is drawn with chalk on the floor, silence being the centre that anchors all the emotions together.

 “Then it’s very easy for the actors to actually walk through with their lines and interpret it through every different emotion and maybe put one foot in bravery and one foot in cowardice and how would you say your line then? One in hatred and one in love? Or one without saying anything?”

When watching her films you can see how this process allows her cast to add incredible depth to the characters.

“Heaven on Earth”, Deepa’s film on the subject of spousal abuse, is one where the characters utilize the emotion of silence to add an intensity that dialogue would not have been able to achieve. Through frustrated, awkward and often palatable silence something deafening is heard.

“All art is political. We all know that and it should be but it has to be about a story; it has to be about real people within that story that are maybe dealing with an issue.  It has to be honed in and represented by something that is living, breathing, that talks,that stops, that decides to sit in a corner and weep. Issues are boring. Feelings are important.”


In the reality of each of our lives lies the potential for magic.

The stories of Salman Rushdie often centre around hybrid places and the impact they have on the psyche of their inhabitants. His characters labour with the problems that can arise with religious and ethnic pluralism. The characters in Midnight’s Children, a story set at the birth of India’s Independence, flesh out a history whose fecundity is ripe with possibilities but also all the pitfalls that come along with a diverse population in competition for their own interests.

The story of Midnight’s Children revolves around Saleem Sinai, a baby boy born at the precise moment of Independence, whose divine timing, as he says makes him “handcuffed to history.” Through his adult eyes we go back with Saleem to witness the importance of his birth and how it plays out in his life. Even the normal moments of his childhood that like so many of us involved bicycles, movie theatres and games of hide & seek, upon reflection become mythological in proportion. We join him in his search to connect the dots of a painful life that was not without its own beauty and his special gift that flips like two sides of a coin between being a blessing and curse.

In the book I enjoyed the twists and turns that the characters take along their migratory paths criss-crossing the sub-continent as well as landing in the newly formed Pakistan and Bangladesh. Rushdie’s tales are deeply layered and I appreciate the history lesson one gets when reading a Rushdie novel. I love his choice of using magic realism because the genre allows him to pierce the mystical qualities of life to show how simple moments, like a child born at the stroke of midnight, can be the stuff of legends.

In the movie I enjoyed Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s intimacy in her choice of shots. She allowed us to get very close to the characters which added a warmth to them that I missed in the book because it was so densely packed with historical details.

The other special elements in the movie was the choice to use Rushdie as the narrator and voice of Saleem Sinai as well as the moving musical score by the brilliant British composer Nitin Sawhney.

The book and the movie  each stand on their own but MIXED BAG MAG recommends treating yourself  to both. It is worth what you come away with – the idea that in the reality of each of our lives lies the potential of magic and the elements that myths are made of.

Visit the Midnight’s Children website, follow along on Facebook and twitter  @midnightsmovie #MidnightsChildren.

For Toronto screen times visit Cinema Clock!

imagineNATIVE FILM FEST: Celebrating Canadian & International Indigenous Filmmakers & Media Artists

On the subject of Contemporary Aboriginal Art…

&  considering how Indigenous Culture has a vital place in the current global landscape MIXED BAG MAG recommends checking out imagineNATIVE – Toronto’s film festival that focuses on Canadian & international Indigenous talent.

“imagineNATIVE is committed to dispelling stereotypical notions of Indigenous peoples through diverse media presentations from within our communities, thereby contributing to a greater understanding by audiences of Indigenous artistic expression.”

One event in particular that would make for interesting dialogue is “Alternative Audiences and Interactive Storytelling: Infusing Indigenous Art and Issues into the Public Consciousness” on Saturday 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox.  

See full schedule on imagineNATIVE’s website
Follow on twitter @imagineNATIVE & Facebook.

Read about my favourite doc at imagineNATIVE 2011 – Robert’s Paintings – by Canadian artist and director Shelley Niro on artist and curator Robert Houle on my blog The L. Project.