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Home: Dubai Film Festival 2008: Day 5: Heaven On Earth

Heaven on Earth is a film about an angel who goes to live with the Manson family in Canada. The angel (sans halo), named Chand (Preity Zinta) arrives from India, after she is married off to the son of the family in Canada and while the entire family at first appears pleased, though glum, on her arrival, things quickly take a turn for the worse. Chand’s husband is receptive towards her; they don’t speak much, have intimacy issues and then there’s also the nagging problem of the mother in law from hell, insecure about her son being swept by the new, comely bride.

All of this is standard stuff from the ‘idiots guide to feminist filmmaking’, but the film is unusually absurd in its approach. In fact, it is quite asinine. Not only is the character of Chand absolutely pure, obedient and submissive, she is also naive and dumb. The son’s family on the other hand is all nefarious and vile. The son slaps his wife the night of their honeymoon when she suggests his mother, who makes a surprise visit, rent another hotel room. Fine, all men are evil and wicked in director Mehta’s world, but why is the son behaving this way? Is there is a reason for the son to be the absolute embodiment of manly misogyny? What makes nearly all the others in the family treat Chand like dirty laundry? When the film begins to build its case against the family, you expect some kind of reason – perhaps a family feud, an old grudge, money, anything – but the film never even comes close to giving an answer. Instead, and here’s the real kicker, in her isolation and loneliness, Chand befriends the apparition of a snake that comes to visit her in the form of her husband.

The inspiration for this serpentine connection is a well known ancient Indian legend, a folksy grandmother’s tale if you will and while I have nothing personally against the myth as such, its inclusion into a serious drama defies logical explanation. Many may see it as allegorical, which while acceptable of only this narrative twist, doesn’t even begin to explain the simplest of character motivations, such as the ones described above. All of this sets up the film to fail miserably. If I never understand why the husband treats his wife like a punching bag, asking me to sympathize with her is unquestionable, in fact it is ploy for cheap and shallow pity. If Deepa Mehta wanted to make a Harry Potter like fantasy spin, she need not have immersed her drama with deathly seriousness. There is a reason that movie genre’s exist – they act as placeholders for not just the story, but mood, themes and eventual impact and a film cannot be commended only because it manages to play around genre’s. - by Faizan Rashid [Rated 1 out of 5]

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