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Deepa Mehta
Born January 1, 1950 (1950-01-01) (age 60)
Amritsar Punjab, India
Occupation film director and screenwriter
Spouse(s) Paul Saltzman (1973–1983)[1]
Domestic partner(s) David Hamilton

Deepa Mehta, LLD (Hindi: दीपा मेहता) (born 1 January 1950 in Amritsar, Punjab, India)[2] is a Genie Award winning and Academy Award nominated Indian-born Canadian film director and screenwriter. Deepa Mehta's films focus around the Indian community, in India and in the diaspora.



Mehta attended Welham Girls High School[3] and graduated from the University of Delhi with a degree in philosophy before emigrating to Canada in 1973. In Canada she met and married filmmaker Paul Saltzman. The couple has a daughter, author Devyani Saltzman. They divorced in 1983. Mehta is in a long-term relationship with producer David Hamilton.[4]


Mehta embarked on her film career as a screenwriter for children's films. In 1991 she made her feature-film directorial debut with Sam & Me (starring Om Puri), a story of the relationship between a young Indian boy and an elderly Jewish gentleman in the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale. It won First Honorable Mention in the Camera d'Or category of the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. Mehta followed up with Camilla starring Bridget Fonda and Jessica Tandy in 1994. In 2002, she directed Bollywood/Hollywood, for which she won the Genie Award for Best Original Screenplay. Mehta is currently preparing a film entitled Exclusion, which stars Akshay Kumar and John Abraham. The plot is based on the Komagata Maru incident that occurred in Canada.

Mehta directed two episodes of George Lucas' television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The first episode, "Benares, January 1910", aired in 1993. The second episode was aired in 1996 as part of a TV movie titled Young Indiana Jones: Travels with Father. Mehta also directed several English-langauge films set in Canada, including The Republic of Love (2003) and Heaven on Earth (2008) which deals with domestic violence and has Preity Zinta playing the female lead. The film premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.[5]

Mehta has several upcoming projects, including an adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Exclusion with Akshay Kumar.

Elements trilogy

Mehta is best known for her Elements Trilogy, all of which were set in India. Some notable actors that have worked in this trilogy are Aamir Khan, Seema Biswas, Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, John Abraham, Rahul Khanna, Lisa Ray, and Nandita Das. These films are also notable for Mehta's collaborative work with author Bapsi Sidhwa. Sidhwa's novel Cracking India, (1991, U.S.; 1992, India; originally published as Ice Candy Man, 1988, England), is the basis for Mehta's 1998 film, Earth. Mehta's film, Water, was later published by Sidhwa as the 2006 novel, Water: A Novel. All three films have soundtracks composed by A. R. Rahman.

Fire (1996)

The first film in the series, Fire (1996), is set in contemporary India. It was a highly controversial film among certain more conservative quarters in India due to its depictions of gender, marriage, and (homo)sexuality and particularly because of use of the names of Hindu goddesses with characters and portraying these characters as lesbians.[6]

Earth (1998)

Earth (1998) (released in India as 1947: Earth) tells the story of the partition of India in 1947 from the vantage point of a young Parsi girl. Earth was the Indian nominee for the 2000 72nd Academy Award for Best Foreign film, but was not included among the final five nominees selected by the AMPAS.

Water (2005)

The final film in the trilogy, Water (2005), is set in the 1930s and focuses upon the difficult lives of an impoverished group of widows living in an ashram. Water was nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, making it Canada's first non-French-language film to receive a nomination in that category. The song Aayo Re Sakhi was included in the final list for Oscar nomination.


Mehta had originally intended to direct Water in February 2000, with the actors Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Akshay Kumar. Her earlier film, Fire, however, had previously attracted hostility from some people in the Hindu community (who objected to her depiction of Hindu culture) and had organized attacks on cinemas that screened that film. Thus, the day before filming of Water was due to begin, the crew was informed that there were complications with gaining location permits. The following day, they learned that 2,000 protesters had stormed the ghats, destroying the main film set, burning and throwing it into the Ganges in protest of the film's subject matter.[7]

The resulting tensions meant that Mehta struggled for many years to make Water and was eventually forced to make it in Sri Lanka rather than India.[7] She eventually made the film, with a new cast, and a fake title used during filming (River Moon) in 2003. The struggle to make the film was detailed in a non-fiction book, Shooting Water: A Mother-Daughter Journey and the Making of the Film, written by Mehta's daughter, author Devyani Saltzman (whose father is Canadian producer and director Paul Saltzman, son of pioneering Canadian weather forecaster Percy Saltzman).[7]

Critical responses to Mehta's work surfaced also during the release of Fire in 1998 because it offended Hindu sensibilities and promoted Indophobia. Hindus engaged in mass protests against the film at cinemas in Mumbai and Delhi. After the movie's release, Mehta spent nearly a year under 24-hour police protection while traveling through North America and Europe. Mehta and others, including feminists who took issue with the film for other reasons (see "Criticism"), engaged in counter demonstrations to prevent the censorship of the film.[8]


Feminist critics of Mehta's films argue that Mehta's portrayal of women and gender relations is over-simplified. Indian feminist authors Mary E. John and Tejaswini Niranjana wrote in 1999 that Fire reduces patriarchy to the denial and control of female sexuality. The authors make the point that the film traps itself in its own rendering of patriarchy:

Control of female sexuality is surely one of the ideological planks on which patriarchy rests. But by taking this idea literally, the film imprisons itself in the very ideology it seeks to fight, its own version of authentic reality being nothing but a mirror image of patriarchal discourse. 'Fire' ends up arguing that the successful assertion of sexual choice is not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition--indeed, the sole criterion--for the emancipation of women. Thus the patriarchal ideology of 'control' is first reduced to pure denial -- as though such control did not also involve the production and amplification of sexuality -- and is later simply inverted to produce the film's own vision of women's liberation as free sexual 'choice.' (1999:582)

Whatever subversive potential 'Fire' might have had (as a film that makes visible the 'naturalised' hegemony of heterosexuality in contemporary culture, for example) is nullified by its largely masculinist assumption that men should not neglect the sexual needs of their wives, lest they turn lesbian (1999:583).

The authors additionally argue that viewers must ask tough questions from films such as Fire that place themselves in the realm of "alternative" cinema and aim to occupy not only aesthetic, but also political space (Economic and Political Weekly, March 6-13, 1999).

Other critics have noted that Mehta overlooks the complex politics of post-colonial India in her films, particularly when she portrays "oppressed" women and confirms Orientalist stereotypes about the "exotic" and "strange" nature of Indian culture, as in her film Water. It has been argued that in the current geo-political context of imperialism that often relies on narratives of "saving women" (e.g. the U.S. War on Terror utilizing the "oppressed Muslim woman" narrative to morally justify war), Mehta's characters are too easily read by the audience as passive victims who need to be saved rather than agents in their own history.[9]

Madhu Kishwar, then-editor of Manushi, wrote a highly critical review of Fire, finding fault with the depiction of the characters in the film as a "mean spirited caricature of middle class family life among urban Hindus". She claimed that homosexuality was socially accepted in India as long as it remained a private affair, adding that Mehta "did a disservice to the cause of women... by crudely pushing the Radha-Sita relationship into the lesbian mould," as women would now be unable to form intimate relationships with other women without being branded as lesbians.[10]



See also


  1. ^ Notable Biographies
  2. ^ "The Canadian Encyclopedia bio".  
  3. ^ "Welham Girls' School". Retrieved 2007-10-01.  
  4. ^ "'Deepa Mehta is rightly being celebrated'". Rediff. 23 February 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2010.  
  5. ^ "Toronto film festival to 'salute' Indian cinema". The Economic Times. 2008-09-03. Retrieved 2008-09-07.  
  6. ^ "".  
  7. ^ a b c Yuen-Carrucan, Jasmin (April 2000). "The Politics of Deepa Mehta's Water". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved 2008-08-23.  
  8. ^ "".  
  9. ^ "".  
  10. ^ Kishwar, Madhu. "Naive Outpourings of a Self-Hating Indian: Deepa Mehta’s Fire", Manushi, 1 January 1998. Accessed 15 March 2008.
  11. ^ "Deepa Mehta makes film on Midnight's Children".  
  12. ^ Honorary Degrees For Leaders In Arts, Business And Law

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