Interview with Deepa Mehta

By Lucía Santiago Dantés.

Earlier this month, on the morning of the opening day at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I had the chance of interviewing  Depa Mehta, who was in Vancouver as her  new film “Midnight’s Children” was going to be open VIFF 2012.

I’ve seen most of Deepa Mehta Films but this one in particular is special as she had the opportunity to work with Salman Rushdie (best known for his book The Satanic Verses published in 1988) which I think both styles are related, each in their own field: Rushdie as a writer and Mehta as a filmmaker.

Here’s the interview.

Lucia -We already went at the screening yesterday in the morning, it was a very beautiful movie, I loved the magic realism. You know El Kiosko Magazine is also from Mexico so we are very familiar with Magic Realism.

DeepaOh there’s a lot of that! I remember seeing years ago “Like water for Chocolate” and there was a lot of magic realism and even in a lot of literature in Southern America. You know, where is it Marquez? from Colombia, you know?

Lucia Nobel price winning author.

Deepa and there’s always in southern america where there’s a lot of there’s poetry, or film or literature, you know, you plea with reality. What is called Magic Realism? doesn’t mean magical magic it means that there’s something that is almost other worldly, it is fantastical about reality. So I feel very happy whenever this people from Mexico or latin america you know, understand this it feels like it’s a way of life. It’s an allegory of life it’s another way of seeing life.. like in an interview also Gabriel García Marquez explain you know that Remedios La Bella, Remedios the beautiful, and there is a scene that she flies away from earth because she was so beautiful that one day just she flies away, while in reality with her boyfriend but he just took that and flies away and it’s also in Midnight’s Children with Salman Rushdie talks with Magic Realism. Is in one hand you have this young boy who has this powers to get all the children who were born at the stroke of midnight when India got its independence from England and all these children according to him, according to the other, has magical powers. You know some can fly, some you know eat words, somebody can turn something into gold, somebody can travel into time, but in reality is it about a lonely boy who has got a very strong imagination.

Lucia Saleem!
Deepa Which is Saleem.

Lucia Saleem is the main character in Midnight’s Children.

Deepa: Yes, I mean, I love Saleem cause he is, you know he is not like the avengers or not like Batman. He is a hero who is different. He is a hero who is really a good guy.

Lucia He was going to be a cast out (socially)  but in a way he ended up being a cast out in his own family.

Deepa Exactly you know the film is also about how 2 children born at the same time are switched at birth. So the poor boy actually ends up in a rich man’s house and the rich man’s son ends up in a poor house. Saleem’s ends up in the rich man’s house and who’s not his family really it’s also, Midnight’s Children it’s also about the search for family

Lucia what I really don’t have time to question but in the movie his real father (the rich one) doesn’t look for Shiva (his genetical son)  or does he look for his real son?

Depa No in the movie he says Saleem says “I don’t know for what reason but my parents did never looked for the real son”, you know, but he says “I’d like to think that they loved me” you know? so even they accepted the fact that he was at least a mother really wants… accepted the fact that even it’s not their real son, he is her son.

Lucia Exactly because no matter what happened they ended up being a family all together that’s what they say. Even the nurse that switched them becomes part of the family at the end. Closing the circle.

Deepa: Absolutely close the circle. That’s what is all about. That’s magic realism. It’s not that it’s not realistic but it’s the way of saying it that makes it fantastical.

Lucia How did you end up working with Salman Rushdie?and how did the project came along that he also ended up both writing the script and collaborating with you and also the narrator or the voice over at the beginning or something like that?

Deepa: Salman and I been friends for 4 or 5 years, and he said OK let’s work together. One day we must work together. And so, 3 or 4 years ago he said or I said, which… I don’t know, we were talking about something or the other and he said “which boook would you like to do?” I said “Midnight’s Children” and he said “OK” it was at simple as that. And then we said Ok we did it and we did all the things and he said I hope you want to write the screenplay and I said “No, you ‘are going to write it” and I said “No I’m not going to write it!” [laughs] he didn’t want to write it at all. I really had to convince him. Because and the reason I had to convince him it’s such a famous book. It is such an important book and he is a very good writer, you know this is Salman Rushdie and it was very important that he, he was the best person in a way and because certain years have gone by since he wrote the book, he could look at his in objectivity (the book) and say “Ok this is fine in the book, these chapters, these characters are fine in the book but we really don’t need them in the film, so the way he would have disrespect for his own characters, nobody else could. Then we worked very closely together. Deciding what should we keep what should we not keep and he wrote the screenplay. And the same thing that happenes with… you know he wasn’t there not at all.

Lucia -not at all?

Deepa – No,no, no.


Deepa No,no, no… Eh, Sometimes he’d come in, you know I wanted him to come in and look what I got when you were getting towards the end. Look at this, look at that. It was very involved in that because… it’s his book and he has great ideas in it. But also he is very respectful with somebody else’s work. He was not interfering in my work that’s a great thing about Salman and it was the same thing that happened with the narration, you know I thought that Satya who plays Saleem, would do the narration, we tried it but his voice is too young. And I felt it would be the voice of an older Saleem.

LuciaYes I agree.

Deepa: And I remember getting up in one morning, and I was thinking about at night and I got up in the morning and I said “of course! Salman should do the narration” and I immediatly rang him up and I said “Salman, can you come down to Toronto? I want you to do the narration” and he said “I’m not coming” I’m not doing it [laughing] I’m not going to make a fool of myself, I’m not gonna do it!” he was very sweet and funny, but you know I said “Ok Let’s try if it doesn’t work i I’m not gonna force you, I’m not gonna ruin the movie because of that so, we tried and it worked so well and then he realized it worked so nice because his narration is so from the heart you know? it’s perfect.

Lucia I would like to see more of the magical characters but it’s too long already the movie and I think you guys did the right decision of cutting down just to the main characters but in the other hand….

Deepa Ah yeah, you know otherwise the movie would be 5 hours long. Right now it’s 2 hours and 2o minutes thats that’s not bad.

Lucia: yeah, that’s not bad you don’t even feel it.

Deepa No, you don’t feel it. you know people sit there and they just go right to and they say “oh my God! I never felt it was 2 hours and 15 or 20 minutes or whatever but I think if you’ve gone for much more, everything that’s in the book would be 8 hours long.

Lucia What’s the reaction you got so far from the other film festivals.

Deepa Actually the reaction has been… we’ll see what happens today in Vancouver, you’ll never know. Every city is different but the reaction has been very similar, you know people have just aahh… I mean I hate to say it but that’s what they, the people just really love it.
you know they feel the go into the movie hall and they get into another world. They’re taken into another world which they, and it’s wonderful the way the world you know, unfolds and then when the lights come on they said “My God! we’ve seen something”.

Lucia And everybody connects at the movie because at some points are so many things over there to relate.

Deepa yes because you know the film is just not an historical epic it’s also about family and it’s also about love, it’s about children and

Lucia and all these situations for example the endless night and the magic realism that is very similar to the.. ah… India’s and Latin America’s magic realism.

Deepa -Totally! very similar!

Lucia  … the color in the movie, the design, the production design, the music is so beautiful...

Deepa: The Music! the music it’s so beautiful Nitin Sawhney has done a great job,you know Dilip Mehta has done the design, Giles who shot it, I mean again! it’s like another world!The music but you know that one people said. There’s one shot for me that’s really shocking even to my eye is that endless night and Shiva is on his bicycle over the roof and has the 2 flags of India and the sky is black, you know it’s haunting

Luciayes haunting yeah you transmit that very well. When you want to transmit haunting and despair… it’s there!

Deepa Oh that’s good!  because I just find it… you know or when Saleem goes to bangladesh there’s all these dead bodies (yes) just lying there. Over there is the use of animals… you know the gecko, the lizzard on the wall Saleem was there
and it all your movies these symbols of animals that are symbolic but that’s also magic realism, it’s magical it’s connected with that so the heart beat of the lizzard the gecko on the wall it’s like Saleem’s in coma and the ants and the water buffalos and snakes…

Lucia -the invisbility basket!

Depa: Oh yeah! the invisibility basket oh yeah!! [Laughs] and flying doves

Lucia is like how can you carry the man in the invisitiblity basket???? that’s what makes the movie so attractive! because it has a little bit of everything!

Deepa it has humor

Lucia humor, sad, joy etc everything is there, you connect in so many ways

Deepa it is great fun doing it, very difficult! Because you know you have to work so hard, so many actors, so many extras.

Lucia Any anecdotes?

Deepa: eeeh you know we have a snake that dissappeared. [laughs]

Lucia What happened?

Deepa: When we had Picture Singh (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda) you know Picture Singh is a wonderful character in the film who’s a snake charmer and he is sitting and talking to Satya (Saleem in the movie) in this little ghetto in his house and he’s surrounded by four snakes and the actor is sitting there and the four snakes there we said cut! and just a second later we look back and one of the snakes was missing! and we said look everywhere it’s a cobra! It was crazy things everyday one thing or the other

Lucia Did you ever find it?

Deepa: No! we never find it! [Laughs] it’s somewhere around there. It was a baby cobra so now it must be a very big cobra. And the gueese in the grandfather’s house, they were always filled with gueese.

Lucia Oh yes  I loved the locations they’re beautiful… Anita … Anita Majumdar she’s the one who plays the sister…

Deepa Emerald!

Lucia Emerald in the movie and she marries this general and she lives in this beautiful house.

Deepa Gorgeous house! Beautiful, gorgeous house.. Even Saleem’s own parents live in a very beautiful house. The one that get from the englishman, yes, yes yes. Its about the really rich then there’s poverty, this little hut, you know but it’s a world of the really rich and the really poor, who’s happy, who’s not… it’s all about that. And it’s similar in our countries… it’s exactly the same. You live that kind of contrast every single day no matter the times, we are like that. The contrast. Nowadays it’s even more contrast. No nowadays it’s getting thougher but the film is being released in Mexico.

Lucia Do you know when?

Deepa I think it’s going to be next january or something.

Lucia ok and it’s going to be in any film festival or just theatrical?

Depa I don’t know about any film festival but I think it’s ah I think is… yeah it’s release in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, in Colombia even… it’s going to be a huge release.

Lucia I’m sure they will like it

Deepa I hope so, because they will understand it.

Lucia I think everybody will understand it.

Deepa But some more than others.

Lucia Some other audiences are less forgiving than others to magic realism even in the books.

Deepa But so far you know, people have really loved the film, so I’m happy. yeah.

Lucia What plans do you have for the future?

Deepa: I’m gonna sleep for six months, [laughs] but I have to do another film. it’s a film in french. Not in french but it’s about a french artist you know André Matisse and it’s about the last 2 or 3 years of his life, when he was 80 before he died.

Lucia Very Interesting

Deepa and he designed the chappel in the south of France. So it’s very interesting. Another sort of elapse story.

Lucia Do you have any actor (in mind)?

Deepa Not just yet.

Lucia Just the story

Deepa Just the story and the screenplay.

Lucia That must be interesting

Deepa Sort of, but I think about it, right now I want to sleep! I’m tired!

Lucia Must be very tiring no?

Deepa: A lot of traveling but also the traveling is very essential, very important you know, you got into a film and you just let it go. You have to have a little bit promoted. But I think you know, you’re tired making the film, then the film is finished and you can take just one month to relax before you get into the next one.

Lucia Thank you very much, thank you very much for this interview we were looking forward for years and months for you, because we watched your films and we love your films. Thank you so much it’s a pleasure.

Deepa it was a lovely interview thank you so much.

Lucia thank you.


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