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Review: Videsh?Heaven on Earth

Review: Videsh?Heaven on Earth

Source: Sify

By: Sonia Chopra

Critic's Rating: 17/5

Friday 27 March 2009

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Movie Title

Videsh-Heaven on Earth

Director

Deepa Mehta

Star Cast

Preity Zinta, Vansh Bhardwaj, Balinder Johal

There?s celebration in the air and we learn that lovely Chand (Preity Zinta) is getting engaged. The ladies? sangeet is a riot as an old lady, easily in her 80s, decides to shake a leg leading to squeals from the other women. Before the wedding, the daughter must listen to an often-repeated story about a mythical snake from her mother, the moral of which is that the snake should not bite, but that doesn?t mean it can?t hiss for protection. The next day, getting ready in the airport restroom (a delicious scene), the bride emerges, resplendent, and eager to meet her Canada-based husband and his family.

Rocky and his family seem nice enough. His sister is attentive to Chand; the husband seems shy and sweet. Her new home, she realises is a pigeon-hole where the entire extended family resides along with Rocky?s married sister, her husband and two children. That very evening, her mother-in-law asks her son to not take the trouble of getting the evening alcohol himself, as he now has Chand. Conditioned from birth, as many Indian girls are, she gets up like a robot on command and fetches the drinks. Despite being a graduate, she is put on a manual job in a detergent company with the sister-in-law. Her salary is directly given to her husband, and her desire for a better job in keeping with her education is rebuffed.

Back home, her mother-in-law is suddenly insecure of her short-tempered son, and instigates him against his new bride. Provoked to display machismo, he beats his wife repeatedly. No one in the family, even those against this violence, raises their voice. When she calls her home in India, her brother won?t listen to her pleas for help. And her daily schedule of working at the factory, slaving in the kitchen, and getting beaten is set. What is scarier is that the violence takes place in the midst of such a ?normal? family set-up. With no one vile villain to point fingers at, writer-director Deepa Mehta brings forth the complexity of such abuse, aided by age-old society structures.

As is usually the case with victims of bullying and abuse, Chand finds herself unable to fight back. Her escape is in the world of imagination, where she imagines a reformed husband (actually a form the snake takes)?one who asks about her childhood and wants to know her favourite colour. This inclusion of fantasy is exactly what jeopardises a film that could have been a telling one with a strong social conscience. When Chand quotes from the snake?s folk story, as she does too often, you?re not likely to understand much. No one really recounts stories to themselves in the first place, and that too chronologically, so that hugely takes away from the film?s credibility. Then there?s a scene with a real snake, a naag pariksha if you will, that?s so unconvincing, you wonder if it?s really happening or is it a part of Chand?s imagination. Unfortunately, this bizarre inclusion of the snake taking the form of her husband in her thoughts, and her quoting from the folk story, take away from the film?s central issues about immigration and helplessness of violated brides. Another major flaw is the pacing, which is luxurious in the first half as the film takes its time to set up the atmospherics, but terribly rushed in the second.

Coming to the atmospherics, the film does splendidly. There?s a gurudwara scene that stretches endlessly, but is wonderful in setting the calm before the storm. In one of Videsh?s most heart-warming and humorous scenes, Rocky closes in on Chand hinting at a passionate encounter, while she asks him about his hobbies. Another one is Chand using the loo in her new home, well after everyone?s asleep, making us wonder how inhibited she must feel among a group of strangers.

Other nuances too are delightful?the little girl Loveleen?s fascination with the ravishing new bride. And the entire family vacating the home during the day and parking themselves in a mall, as the home has been rented out to night-shift immigrants who need a place to sleep during day.

The performances are spotless. Zinta?s rendering of the abused new bride is heart wrenching. Especially in the difficult scenes when she is unable to tell imagination from real life. As her mother-in-law, Balinder Johal is marvellous adding so much authenticity to her character. Vansh Bharadwaj is remarkable for bringing out the frustrations and portraying his character more as a weak and spineless person who gives in to his family?s pressures, rather than someone who sadistically enjoys brutality. Ramanjit Kaur, too, has a complex character to thrash as Chand?s sympathetic sister-in-law, but unable to raise her voice as she?s dependent on them. The kids are wonderful, especially Geetika Sharma who plays Loveleen.

If one were to compare Videsh with Provoked, one would have to admit that Deepa Mehta?s take on this very prevalent social evil is feebler. By adding the snake folklore, perhaps to add that dash of Indian exotica, the film, one is sorry to say, only weakens the gravity of the subject it so honestly set out to debate.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars

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