The promos of Deepa Mehta's Videsh - Heaven On Earth bring back memories of Jag Mundhra's Provoked, which also spoke of domestic violence. Sure, Videsh - Heaven On Earth also looks at domestic violence, it's also about a Punjabi woman who continues to take the beatings silently on a foreign land, but the similarities end there. There's a twist in the tale in Videsh - Heaven On Earth and that makes this film different from films of its ilk.
Partly based on Girish Karnad's play Naag Mandala and perhaps inspired by several true stories, Deepa tries to inject myth into the main story and that's one of the prime reasons why you don't take to the film completely.
Videsh - Heaven On Earth is an unconventional subject, but the moment a reptile slides into the story, it robs the film of realism. Your heart breaks every time the woman is subjected to physical abuse. You do relate to the character since you've either heard or watched tales of domestic abuse. But the sheshnaag part in the film is difficult to digest.
Besides, there's a major flaw in the writing. The husband continues to indulge in physical abuse, but it's not clear why he comes across as a frustrated man. Not once does the director spell out the reasons why the husband behaves like a monster and keeps harming his wife, right under the nose of his family members.
Yet, despite the hiccups, you can't deny the fact that Deepa has handled the material with sensitivity. Even the end you can predict the conclusion is well executed.
Chand [Preity Zinta] is a young bride leaving her home in Ludhiana, India, for the cavernous landscape of Brampton, Ontario, where her husband Rocky [Vansh Bhardwaj] and his very traditional family await her arrival.
Everything is new to Chand, everything is unfamiliar including the quiet and shy Rocky, who she meets for the first time. Chand approaches her new life and her new land with equanimity and grace. But soon optimism turns to isolation as the family she has inherited struggles beneath the weight of unspoken words, their collective frustration becoming palpable.
Trapped in a world she cannot comprehend and unable to please her husband, Chand is desperate. Hope comes in the form of Rosa, a tough and savvy Jamaican woman who works alongside Chand in a factory where immigrant women from all over the world clean and press dirty hotel laundry.
Rosa gives her a magical root advising her to put it in the drink. The root is supposed to seduce the one who takes it, making them fall hopelessly in love with the person who gives it to them. Chand's attempts with the magic root lead to surreal incidents.
Deepa gets it right till the snake transforms into her husband and that makes the entire aspect so hard to believe. You can't relate to it anymore. The cinematography is dark at times. If the intention was to impart a gloomy and depressing tint, it doesn't work. And why this need for a B & W look at several places? Doesn't work!
Preity delivers her finest performance to date. She displays the helplessness and pain that this character demands with gusto. It's at par with any powerful act by any international actor. Newcomer Vansh Bhardwaj is striking. Very rarely do first-timers enact their parts with such precision. Amongst supporting actors, Preity's mother-in-law and sister-in-law are believable.
On the whole, Videsh - Heaven On Earth works in parts, but it's not enough. At the box-office, the Indian market may not be too receptive to the film. It will have to look internationally to recoup the investment.