Whose life is it anyway? Every time a bio-pic is attempted, the real-life figure decides to step into the picture at the last minute with a long list of demands.
So it has happened with Deepa Mehta's Heaven On Earth. The real-life wife Amandeep Kaur, the wife from Punjab who became a victim of spousal abuse after marriage in Toronto, and on whose story of domestic violence Heaven On Earth (HOE) is partly based decided months before release that she needed to have more prominence in the film's publicity.
Aghast at the turn of events as this kind of one-woman marketing monopoly was never part of Deepa's creative strategy for a film on domestic violence, the adamant director knocked off all mention of Amandeep from the film and advised Preity Zinta who plays the protagonist and other members of the cast to not make any mention of a woman called Aman.
Ironically, the film's release was therefore jeopardized by the woman behind the harrowing plot claiming stakes in the project.
But now in a sudden and dramatic move, Amandeep Kaur has decided to declare truce with Deepa Mehta. Says the relieved filmmaker, "We decided to sit and talk about our problems. Matters have been sorted out with Amandeep. Now she's pleased. She's back being a proud part of our project. And we're now again free to use her name in the film's publicity. My problem with Amandeep's claim was that Heaven On Earth is not only her story. It's also the story of another abused wife Mona Gill. Amandeep refused to accept that Heaven On Earth was any other woman's story. She claimed it's entirely her story. That was nonsense. How could Amandeep claim the entire plot to be hers when half the film is based on Girish Karnad's play Naag Mandala? Heaven On Earth is also the story of hundreds of migrant wives who step into marriages with NRIs without knowing what's in store. In fact it's the story of any arranged marriage."
Getting emotional Deepa recollects, "After a private screening in Kolkata, a father came up to me and said , 'How can we be sure that when our daughter marries and goes to another home in the same town she won't be treated the same way that Preity Zinta is in your film?' While the plight of women in my Water was seen as being too distant from contemporary lifestyles, Heaven On Earth is ghar ghar ki khani. Domestic violence is not peculiar to any era or culture."
Deepa's main objection was to Amandeep taking away the credit from the other battered wife Mona Gill. "I'm glad Amandeep saw my point of view. Heaven On Earth is also about the importance of mythology to our culture. I didn't want Heaven On Earth to be another film about domestic violence. You know, the 'Don't hit me, don't hit me' and then, 'I'll hit you back' kind of 'liberating' experience."