Leila is Deepa Mehta's Scariest Venture

Subhash K Jha looks at 'Leila' the upcoming Netflix series starring Huma Qureshi and created by Deepa Mehta
Leila is Deepa Mehta's Scariest Venture
Huma Qureshi in 'Leila'

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.

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.

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