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Heaven on Earth 

Directed by Deepa Mehta (Mongrel Media)

Though the plot pivots on an abusive arranged marriage, this film shows how families can arrange themselves around problems in a way that facilitates catastrophe. Because he's the cherished son working many jobs to support a multi-generational household, no one challenges or sanctions Rocky Dhillon (Vansh Bhardwaj) when he unleashes violence on his new bride, Chand (Preity Zinta). Rocky's mother worships him. His sister excuses him. Everyone else in the home fears him. Chand came from northern India to join this other Punjabi family in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto.

As director, Mehta sets most scenes in a plain house with sparse yards, crowded kitchen and fighting children. The lighting is drab, unlike so much of her work. She uses simple but symbolic black-and-white sequences to transition into Chand's interior, where she draws on mythology (a story she was told by her mother), to figure out what she can and will do to save herself. Her decision, and action, at the end of the film will cause debate and disagreement. Mehta does this well. She confronts viewers with an uncomfortable question: Is Rocky, by nature, bad or evil, or is he an angry, immature young man heaped with too much responsibility, who needs to be disarmed and helped?

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Vol 25, No 25
November 16, 2017

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