In Videsh (Heaven On Earth) , Deepa Mehta uses folklore to explore several socially relevant issues, from the sanctity of marriage to domestic violence and even exploring the meaning of true happiness. It is a simple yet complex film that compels you to be a part of its intense drama.
The film is based on Girish Karnad's stage play called Nagamandala which tells the story about a newly married young woman who becomes a victim of domestic abuse. Neglected by her husband and desperate to make the marriage work, she decides to win his love by using a magic love root given to her by another woman. If consumed by her husband, the magic love root would make him fall hopelessly in love with her. But unknowingly she feeds it to a snake (king cobra). The snake then takes the form of her husband which leads to surreal confrontations and some bittersweet consequences.
Deepa Mehta uses the working-class immigrants' Canada as the backdrop where the characters of husband and wife are essayed by Vansh Bhardwaj (as Rocky) and Preity Zinta (as Chand) respectively. Here, Chand is a bubbly Punjabi girl who migrates to Canada for an arranged marriage with a man she has never met. Little did she know that this marriage would prove to be an exposŤ about the harsh realities of life. Vansh on the other hand is an expatriate who is struggling to support his large family through his small job as a cab driver.
Deepa Mehta has always been honest towards her film's demands. She could have made this film in Hindi or atleast partially in Punjabi to achieve a wider audience but she uses unadulterated Punjabi throughout for a much more effective result. There is no room for unnecessary flamboyance in her films and in Videsh, she keeps the treatment simple and provides a realistic look at the lives of the first generation of immigrants wherein their loneliness, frustration, desires and struggles have been depicted very well. The supernatural element has been convincingly integrated into the narrative and the overall effect is surprisingly believable. Giles Nuttgen's photography also deserves brownie points for capturing the grim backdrop to the story with finesse.
Videsh has standout performances by its leading cast. Preity Zinta shines in a very challenging role and she truly makes Chand's suffering and angst come alive on screen. This is undoubtedly one of her best performances till date. Vansh Bhardwaj makes a superb film debut and as he has been saying in the interviews, this indeed is a dream debut for him. He essays both the characters of Rocky and Sheshnaag (human form of king cobra) flawlessly. While Rocky requires him to be a frustrated, angry man, Sheshnaag has him in a romantic avatar. Performances of the supporting cast are very believable.
Videsh might look like a simple film about domestic abuse on the surface, but it has much more to offer than that. The magical surrealism (a genre which has not been exploited much in Indian cinema) acts like a mirror to depict the frailties and complexities of human relationships. Watch it with an open mind and you'll see how beautifully the film delivers what it intends to at the outset.