Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Preity Zinta Scores, Deepa Mehta Bores; Videsh (Heaven On Earth)

(Contains some slight spoilers, but don't let that discourage you from reading; You may have a better experience with Videsh if you know what to expect, and when I discuss the ending, I'll let you know)

There's good news and there's bad news. First, the good news, which can be summed up in two words: Preity Zinta. Just like she did in The Last Lear, Preity proves all those who thought she was only good for "bubbly, Westernized" roles wrong. Dare I say that I saw shades of Tabu in The Namesake in Preity's performance? She obviously worked very hard on this, and it all paid off--her character was the beating heart of Videsh.

As for the rest of the film, let's just say I'm still trying to figure it out.

Videsh starts out promising enough. Chand's family arranges a marriage for her to a man named Rocky, a NRI who lives in Canada. It's a full house; Rocky lives with his parents, his sister, his sister's husband, and their two children. While things are a bit crowded, the family is welcoming enough to Chand and she dutifully accepts her new life. But Rocky's mother is jealous of his new wife, and it doesn't take long for her to put a guilt trip on Rocky that provokes him to treat Chand like dirt. Tension escalates and Chand finds herself in an abusive relationship she is powerless to escape.

The film's gray, gritty photography and simple dialogue made it feel very realistic, but it was a bit slow. Still, I was glued to the screen; After all, it was a Deepa Mehta film. I knew I could expect each scene to get increasingly potent as the film progressed, and at the end it would all erupt in a dramatic climax...Right?

Wrong. What the heck happened? I'm still trying to figure it out. Somewhere along the way, this drama that was only engaging because of its raw performances and in-your-face realistic approach to a messed up situation (as most Deepa Mehta films I've seen) fell off the track and ended up in la-la land. The film lost me when it tried to go all Paheli-ish and actually expected me to believe a cobra had taken on the form of Chand's husband. I'm not kidding.

Chand's coworker, a well-meaning Jamaican woman named Roza, advises her to grind a piece of ginger root and place it in Rocky's drink as a black magic tactic that would cause him to fall madly in love with her. The abuse would stop shortly after. None of this was the problem--I actually felt like Roza's character was detrimental to the story, like she honestly cared for Chand and would save her from this hellhole after her home remedy suggestion proved unsuccessful. But that's not the direction the film chose to take--Instead, after one failed attempt, Chand's black magic went arwy and !Voila! a cobra ended up in her backyard.
This cobra would eventually take up the form of Chand's husband Rocky and provide her aching heart with the love and affection it craved.

If the above paragraph made absolutely no sense to you, imagine how I felt when watching the film.

I love fantasy in film, but when it is well placed! I thoroughly enjoyed Paheli and Pan's Labyrinth. BUT it just didn't fit here! If this was a fantasy film, then it was an incredibly boring one. There was no color, no excitement. And the stage had not been set for something like this to happen!

After doing some reading on Wikipedia I found out that this curve in the storyline was based on an Indian fable. So perhaps I just didn't "get" it, and I don't mean to sound authoritative about a subject I know very little about (such as Indian folklore).

It's very possible that I'm misinterpreting this, and Mehta intended the snake's metamorphosis to be a figment of Chand's imagination, a coping mechanism related to her physically abused state. I'd be willing to buy this, and perhaps it would have even made the film all the more effective. But that still doesn't explain why a cobra ended up in the Ontario, Canada!

All of that being said, Videsh wasn't a disaster, either. The entire cast was amazing, but of course it was Preity I was rooting for. Newcomer Vansh Bhardwaj made me jump in fear every time he looked like he was going to hit Chand. In fact, I wish Mehta would have scrapped the cobra and just used the "real" Rocky more. We could have seen more of the depths of his character, the different mood changes that an abuser can often take. We never saw Rocky's good side, and perhaps if we had we could have empathized with Chand's predicament even more. We could have felt just as torn and heartbroken as she was, and that would have made an effective film. Bhardwaj would have been more than competent to pull it off.

The climax wasn't a complete loss, either. Despite the ridiculous circumstance, my eyes were wide open as I watched Chand reach into the snake pit.

I do feel, however, that the ending left more unanswered questions. Was Chand really going to be safe from Rocky? And if it was that easy to pack up and go, why didn't she leave sooner? I'm a nursing student, so I know that abused women often have to wait until they feel safe to leave a dangerous relationship, but still...this wasn't explained clearly enough in the film.

(***SPOILER END****)

Watch Videsh for Preity--she makes it all worthwhile. Rent it, download it, do whatever you have to do, but please, please don't pay more than $3 for it.


aneri_masi April 29, 2009 at 9:18 PM  

Cobra? Really? :O

Thanks for the alert!!! This one doesn't make much sense! Wow!

JJC April 29, 2009 at 10:55 PM  

Nida, i saw the movie recently and no lie..EVERYTHING you've said, it exactly how i felt..preity was great..but the weird talks to herself and the snake in canada was a little delirious. not everyone will know about the fable so theyre gonna feel the same way.
I wish they showed more of the husbands moodiness rather than the snake bit.
the mother was sucha b*t*h. yelling in preitys ear like that..and showing up on her honeymoon!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat April 30, 2009 at 12:21 AM  

lols that sounds so funny! husband= cobra- maybe she should have converted hersef to a snake and bit him hard- heehee

Nicki April 30, 2009 at 7:31 AM  

Wow, sounds like a hit and miss film. I do have this movie but no desire to watch it yet

memsaab April 30, 2009 at 8:26 AM  

Yikes! I can move this down a bit on my list :( Thanks for the review!

bollyviewer April 30, 2009 at 11:44 AM  

I had heard about the snake thing but didnt realise that it was so badly integrated. Deepa Mehta films are never top of my list, but I always land up watching them and regretting it! Guess I'll have to be strong and absolutely stand out against watching this one.

Nida April 30, 2009 at 2:12 PM  

Aneri--Really! :) No problem--Like I said, maybe some ppl will enjoy the movie more if they know what to expect. I was really thrown for a loop.

JJC-Glad to know I wasn't the only one! So many times during the film I kept asking myself, Am I the crazy one here who doesn't get this? Also, wasn't it funny when Preity pushes the mother in the kitchen? I felt so mean for laughing but she totally deserved it!

Shweta-ROTFLOL--I can only imagine how your review would have sounded--I'm sure it would have been hilarious!

Nicki-Aww we should have done a watchalong. Then we both could have been like WTH? and supported each other in our confusion.

Memsaab-Yikes! Is the perfect word for it. Yeah don't make this one a priority. Though I'd love to read someone else's take on it, maybe someone who liked it better than I did.

Bollyviewer--I wouldn't call myself a Deepa "fan" or anything but I did like Earth, Water and Fire--This one, however, was in a league of its own. So if you didn't those I'd take a pretty good guess that you'd really dislike this one!

S.K.S. May 1, 2009 at 11:02 AM  

Nice site! I definitely want to see this, but I've heard it's disappointing, especially from Deepa Mehta.

I loved Earth; it's definitely my favorite. I liked Water and Fire, too, so I feel like I 'have' watch this one haha.

I'll be coming back here...:)

dubbagol May 2, 2009 at 6:23 AM  

Hey Nida,

Great Film Review - This one and Aa Gale Lag Ja - Both of them - We are definitely going to see Aa Gale Lag Ja dont know about Videsh though after reading about it at your blogpost !! Have you seen Waqt yet ? Old old bollywood film - do let us know how you like it !!

Dubbagol team

shell May 6, 2009 at 3:40 PM  

I have the Canadian version waiting to watch "heaven on earth". I'm sure it's similar to this version. I'll have to watch and compare.

Anonymous,  May 26, 2009 at 12:30 PM  
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Anonymous,  May 28, 2009 at 2:15 PM  

I'm wary of Deepa Mehta but I see her movies so as to have my own opinion, in case anybody ever wants to hear it: and I really disliked this one.

I don't get the ending, and don't want to do any more work to try, probably because by the time it came (the ending), I was so angry at Deepa for her sadism - as far as I'm concerned, she just forced us to sit there and watch the abusive man and his abusive family be predictably abusive over and over and over.

Small chance she thinks she was giving us the experience Preity had as a bride in that household but - if that is what she is selling, I am not buying.


IIFA Awards 2009 June 3, 2009 at 4:44 AM  

I too watched the movie even Preity's milestone could not save it. Seems as if Deepa was trying to portray several things in one movie. Maybe cost cutting due to recession hahahahaha

bawa June 7, 2009 at 11:42 PM  

I like Preity Zinta but this snake stuff is definitely off-putting.

No, I had not heard this "fable" either, and have read a fair amount of folk tales.

Saw that you liked Arth, Shabana and Smita both had some good films in that era of "New Wave" Indian cinema as it was called (masoom, aakrosh, mandi). Another actress of these films was Deepti Naval (saath saath, chashme buddoor). Low budget films that concentrated with more or less success on telling "ordinary" stories.
Another actress from slightly earlier times whose films are mostly worth watching was Jaya Bachchan (Bhaduri) (guddi, uphaar, mili, koshish, abhimaan, kora kaagaz, anamika, phagun, piya ka ghar...).

So there was a surprisingly resistant part of hindi cinema that was making less typical films that were also commercially fairly successful.

Nida June 9, 2009 at 2:10 PM  

S.K.S.--Thanks for stopping by, and I do hope you return soon :) I loved the Earth, Fire and Water trilogy, for the most part, but this one was in a league of its own...:S

Dubbagol--I hope u enjoy Aa Gale Lag Ja--I sure did!As for this one, I'm even more convinced now that it really wasn't worth it. I have ordered "Waqt" and can't wait to see it!

Shell--Do let me know what you think...

Virginia--Good to hear from you! I agree, Deepa is very sadistic. It is getting a bit tired for me as well. But too bad this wasn't a bad film, for Preity's sake at least.

IIFA Awards 2009--Possibly that explains it! lol Its too bad because I feel Preity's performance may be missed by some who are just turned off by this movie.

Bawa--Thank you for the recommendations! I own some of the titles you've mentioned,such as "Mandhi" "Guddi" and "Abhimaan" and really cannot wait to watch them--thanks!

bollywoodfoodclub June 16, 2009 at 11:53 PM  

I only skimmed this, since I don't want any spoilers. I totally want to see this film, since the Punjabi wedding scenes I saw in the film's preview remind me of the one I saw in India. Even if it's bad, I'll still see it. I can't find this on Netflix yet. Where did you get your copy?
All the best!

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Anonymous,  November 9, 2009 at 1:47 PM  

I have to agree with u Nida, the ending was so obscure! the acting cast did a good job, but the storyline sucked!

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Syed February 16, 2015 at 3:10 AM  

The best work of Deepa Mehta to date.

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