Barring the misfired Bollywood/Hollywood, none of Deepa Mehta’s works make for easy viewing. Whether dealing with loneliness and lesbianism in Fire, the post-partition carnage in 1947 Earth, domestic abuse in Heaven On Earth or the Nirbhaya rapists in Anatomy Of Violence, Deepa’s cinema makes you squirm and re-think on the set-patterns of life and cinema. Watching the trailer of Deepa Mehta’s Leila which streams on Netflix in June, I am happy to say the filmmaker is in her element. All 5 of them, Earth, water, fire , wind and space , are suffused in the eerie aura that the series creates in some futuristic time frame, when a mother, played with an impressive intensity by Huma Qureshi, sets out to look for a daughter who seems to have been kidnapped by religious sect calling itself Aryvartya.
The images created in the trailer reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. There is religious purging, cultural fascism, atonement and perdition in the brief trailer. What struck me was the absence of joy, even in the happier moments when Shalini (Qureshi) is seen with her husband (played by one of Deepa Mehta’s favourite actors Rahul Khanna) and daughter.
— Netflix India (@NetflixIndia) May 17, 2019
It is as though Deepa Mehta is looking at a world denuded of all familiar comfort and happiness. The cultural ‘purity’ where the main religious communities are segregated to the point of being almost two separate worlds, is a reality that we now face as the country becomes progressively (?) radicalized. In that sense Shalini’s search for ‘Leila’ that the series addresses is also a metaphor for a lost cause. There is an unforgiving harshness in the tone, a lack of compassion in the chilling atmosphere that Deepa has built in Leila. The trailer promises us a series far removed from the experiences that are made in heaven. This one is more hell than heave. Once again Deepa Mehta is telling us things that we don’t necessarily want to hear. But we would be foolish to ignore what is being said here about cultural and religious cleansing. Leila seems like a timely warning.