Videsh: Heaven on Earth is a frustrating film. There are scenes here of marital violence that are so effectively horrific that you almost can?t bear to watch.
Preity Zinta, playing Chand, a Punjabi girl who has an arranged marriage with a taxi driver in Canada, gives her career?s best performance. Her haunted and fearful eyes convey the brutality and horror of her situation.
Within days of her marriage, Chand, an endearingly hopeful bride is transformed into a hollow wreck. She becomes a prisoner in her own home. But Videsh strives to show that Chand isn?t the only victim here.
The alienation, loneliness and struggle of working class immigrants factors into the abuse that permeates Chand?s relationship with her husband.
Vansh Bhardwaj, a theater actor, makes a confident debut as the abusive husband and Balinder Johal is superbly effective as the neurotic mother-in-law who is so insecure about losing her only earning son that she interrupts his honeymoon and actually goads him into beating his wife.
When her son viciously slaps Chand while they are still on their honeymoon, the mother advises her weeping daughter-in-law: Ro mat, yeh toh hota hi rehta hai ghar ghrahasti mein.
And yet, despite all of this, Videsh doesn?t quite hang together. The weakest link in the film is a fantasy element, inspired by Girish Karnad?s celebrated play Nagamandala.
Chand is so desperate for her husband?s affections that she takes a magical root from a Jamaican co-worker and mixes it into her husband?s milk, hoping that it will make him fall in love with her. The potion finds its way to a cobra in the backyard instead. The cobra begins to take the shape of a loving version of her husband and begins to visit Chand.
This is perhaps meant to suggest that Chand?s determination to keep her dream alive is so strong that it actually manifests itself as reality and eventually gives her the strength to fight back.
But interweaving folklore into the grim reality of Videsh required deft writing. Mehta, who had earlier made a critically acclaimed documentary on domestic violence among Canadian Indian immigrants and has also written Videsh is unable to make the transition seamless.
With the introduction of the shape-shifting cobra, the film becomes contrived and confused. The sudden shifts into monochrome frames and Chand?s constant muttering to herself only make the story more opaque. The dialogue is clunky and the metaphor too laboured to work.
Eventually then, Videsh is only partially successful. I recommend that you see it for Priety Zinta?s heartfelt performance.