Deepa Mehta (Hindi: दीपा मेहता) is an Indian-born Canadian film director and screenwriter.
Mehta attended Welham Girls High School and graduated from the University of Delhi with a degree in philosophy before immigrating to Canada in 1973.
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. Mehta is currently preparing a film entitled Exclusion, which is rumored to star Amitabh Bachchan 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 is best known for her Elements Trilogy, all of which were set in India. Some notable actors that have worked in Mehta's films are Aamir Khan, Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, 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.
Heaven on Earth deals with domestic violence and has Preity Zinta playing the female lead. The film premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.
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.
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.
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.
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 subject matter and her stereotyping clichés 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.
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. 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).