When I left Canada and moved to the United States, I began to understand what it meant to be Canadian. Sometimes you need to leave to come home.
Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha are women making history that did just that – they left home but now pursue their creative storytelling as transnational filmmakers exploring what matters to women around the world.
Deepa is from Punjab, India and lives in Canada. She been making dramatic and commercially successful movies for over thirty years. In 2002, with the release of her movie Bollywood Hollywood, she was also honored with Canada’s highest art award: The Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
In television and on screen, Deepa has been sounding the alarm for women in India while tackling complex social issues related to India’s violent history and struggle with gang warfare, misogyny and gender discrimination, and the immigrant experience. Her dramatic style is hard-hitting and spell-binding. It has even caused Indians to riot in the streets and effigies of her to be burned in the Ganges River.
Gurinder’s filmmaking prowess is completely different.
Her films explore the lives of Indian women living in England. Gurinder is Kenyan-Asian and adapts many of her films from books. Her talent is focused almost solely on British comedy, with the exception of a few films like her critically acclaimed 2017 film, Viceroy House.
But don’t be fooled. Gurinder’s stories are devilishly perceptive because she uses familial situations to explore many of the same important subjects important to women. Grinder is also equally if not more decorated than Deepa. She’s garnered international awards and was nominated in 1994 for the Best British Film Award. As well, Gurinder’s Bend It Like Beckham film was the highest grossing British-financed film in the U.K. box office until Slumdog Millionaire.
Two women, two different styles and two impactful voices changing perceptions and harnessing power for women.
Both Deepa and Gurinder are creatively driven to stop women from leading marginalized lives while bringing their own unique flavor and compelling bravado to the screen.
As mentioned earlier on WomanScape, the global film industry is changing and diverse stories like those shared by Deepa and Gurinder are box-office gold and desperately needed in a world hungry for peace. Audiences want to be entertained but they also want to find happiness – a challenging feat in our overstimulated, tech-driven societies. Movies can heal when they are relevant, entertaining and exceptionally well done.
As we continue to see these changes, all white casts and grossly under-represented women who play minor roles will continue to hurt industries like Hollywood. They will continue to lag behind powerful Indie films that are increasingly eating up greater market share and addressing the kinds of provocative questions explored by Deepa and Gurinder.
Deepa’s films challenge our relationship to each other and the lessons we take from history. As a philosophy major in college, Deepa has used her insights to shape weighty and attention-getting themes in her most acclaimed work, particularly her Elements Trilogy.
This is a series of three films – Fire (1996), Earth (1998) and Water (2005) – that tug at old traditions and tease out new values.
In fact, Deepa’s film Fire literally stoked the flames from protesters who were so angered by Deepa’s story about a love affair between two sisters and the challenge it presents to India’s conservative views. Riots quickly denounced Deepa’s film as a casualty of western corruption.
Her second film Earth is set in Lahore, by the actual city line dividing the border of a Hindu-dominated India and a Muslim-dominated Pakistan. The audience watches the political chaos through the eyes of a little girl named Lenny. This too does not end well and in Deepa’s Water, the movie incites even more than the first film.
Here, Deepa examines the deep-rooted customs for widows isolated and victimized by society. While the law forcing widows to be exiled from society is no longer enforced, Deepa is criticized by Hindu Fundamentalists and other conservatives who fear another religious war.
By the time Deepa is able to complete her last Trilogy film, four years have passed and the filming has been done in Sri Lanka under an alias movie title and with hired boy guards.
When compared to Deepa, Gurinder is so interesting because she is able tackle many of the same subjects with humor. Other than Deepa’s 2002 Bollywood Hollywood, which pokes fun at traditional Indian stereotypes, Deepa’s film are serious in tone.
Gurinder’s Bhaji on the Beach was a big first for her as Britain’s first full feature movie by a British Asian female director. The story is about a group of Indian women living in Britain and fighting among themselves. They argue with other younger and older women, and men.
Nominated for Best British Film in 1994, Gurinder’s success continued into her next two films – Bend It Like Beckham (2002) and Bride and Prejudice (2004). Bend It was like an earlier version of wonder woman while Bride is the fun Bollywood version of Jane Austen.
The films that follow for Gurinder include The Mistress of Spices, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, and It’s a Wonderful Afterlife. These playful titles feature strong Indian-British women who struggle to navigate traditional gender roles and abusive husbands. Again, they are movies that play off expected roles for women, whether in marriage or as daughter or mother.
Viceroy’s House is a definite departure for Gurinter who continues to be best known for her Bend It Like Beckham film. Perhaps it explains it’s limited box office success. But one thing is certain when it’s all said and done:
Each of Gurinter’s films are one small part of her tradition and history and the another, A Wonderful Life.