(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.
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.
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