Deepa Mehta

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Deepa Mehta
Canadian director Deepa Mehta (48198952367).jpg
Deepa Mehta in 2005
Born (1950-01-01) 1 January 1950 (age 71)
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, film producer
Years active1976–present
Known forElements Trilogy
(m. 1973; div. 1983)

David Hamilton (– present)
ChildrenDevyani Saltzman (daughter)
RelativesDilip Mehta (brother)

Deepa Mehta, OC OOnt ([d̪iːpa ˈmeːɦt̪a] born 1 January 1950) is an Indo-Canadian film director and screenwriter, best known for her Elements Trilogy, Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005).

Earth was submitted by India as its official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and Water was Canada's official entry for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, making it only the third non-French-language Canadian film submitted in that category after Attila Bertalan's 1990 invented-language film A Bullet to the Head and Zacharias Kunuk's 2001 Inuktitut-language feature Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.

She co-founded Hamilton-Mehta Productions, with her husband, producer David Hamilton in 1996. She was awarded a Genie Award in 2003 for the screenplay of Bollywood/Hollywood.[1] In May 2012, Mehta received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.[2]

Early life[edit]

Mehta was born in Amritsar, Punjab[3] though her family moved to New Delhi while she was still a child, and her father worked as a film distributor. Subsequently, Mehta attended Welham Girls High School, boarding school in Dehradun on the foothills of Himalayas.[4] She graduated from the Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi with a degree in Philosophy.[5]


After graduating Mehta began working for a production company that made documentary and educational films for the Indian government.[6] During the production of her first feature-length documentary focusing on the working life of a child bride,[6] she met and married Canadian documentary filmmaker Paul Saltzman, who was in India making a film. She migrated to Toronto to live with her husband in 1973.[7]

Once in Canada, Mehta and Saltzman along with Mehta's brother Dilip started Sunrise Films, a production company, initially producing documentaries but moved into television production creating the television series Spread Your Wings (1977–79) about the creative and artistic work of young people from around the world.[6][8] Additionally, Mehta directed several episodes of the Saltzman produced CBC drama Danger Bay (1984–90).[7]

Mehta also directed the documentaries At 99: A Portrait of Louise Tandy Murch (1975)[6] and Traveling Light (1986), the latter focusing on the work of Mehta's brother Dilip as a photojournalist. Traveling Light would go on to be nominated for three Gemini Awards. In 1987, based on the works of Alice Munro, Cynthia Flood and Betty Lambert, Mehta produced and co-directed Martha, Ruth and Edie. Screened at the Cannes International Film Festival, it would go on to win the Best Feature Film Award at the 11th International Film Festival in Florence in 1988.[6]

In 1991 she made her feature-film directorial debut with Sam & Me (starring Om Puri), a story of the relationship between a young Indian boy and an elderly Jewish gentleman in the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale. It broke the record at the time for the highest-budgeted film directed by a woman in Canada at $11 million.[7] It won Honorable Mention in the Camera d'Or category of the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. Mehta followed this with her film Camilla starring Bridget Fonda and Jessica Tandy in 1994. In 2002, she directed Bollywood/Hollywood, for which she won the Genie Award for Best Original Screenplay.[1]

Mehta directed two episodes of George Lucas' television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.[9] The first episode, "Benares, January 1910", aired in 1993. The second episode was aired in 1996 as part of a TV movie titled Young Indiana Jones: Travels with Father.

Mehta directed several English-language films set in Canada, including The Republic of Love (2003) and Heaven on Earth (2008) which deals with domestic violence and has Preity Zinta playing the female lead. It premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.[10] Also in 2008 Mehta produced the documentary The Forgotten Woman, directed by her brother Dilip.[7]

In 2015, Mehta wrote and directed the crime thriller Beeba Boys (2015), a film starring Randeep Hooda as Jeet Johar, a proud observant Sikh and a ruthless gangster. It premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.[11]

On 29 October 2020, Telefilm Canada announced that Mehta's film Funny Boy (2020) would represent Canada in the Academy Awards race for best international feature film.[12] However, the film was disqualified by the Academy Awards as its mix of English, Sinhala and Tamil dialogue did not surpass the required percentage of non-English dialogue.[13]

At the 9th Canadian Screen Awards in 2021, Mehta won the Best Director award for Funny Boy.[14] She and cowriter Shyam Selvadurai also won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.[15]

Elements trilogy[edit]

Mehta is best known for her Elements TrilogyFire (1996), Earth (1998) (released in India as 1947: Earth), and Water (2005) — which won her much critical acclaim.[16] Some notable actors who have worked in this trilogy are Aamir Khan, Seema Biswas, Shabana Azmi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, John Abraham, Rahul Khanna, Lisa Ray, and Nandita Das. These films are also notable for Mehta's collaborative work with author Bapsi Sidhwa. Sidhwa's novel Cracking India (1991, U.S.; 1992, India; originally published as Ice Candy Man, 1988, England) is the basis for Mehta's 1998 film Earth. Mehta's film Water was later published by Sidhwa as the 2006 novel Water: A Novel. All three films have soundtracks composed by A. R. Rahman.

Fire follows the love affair between two sisters-in-law whose own sexless marriages bring them together in a passionate romance. It caused controversy upon its release as several Hindutva groups took issue with its central lesbian romance, one that was seen to break traditional family and religious value within society, as there were protests in cities across India.[17] Internationally, the film was critically acclaimed and would go on to win the Most Popular Canadian Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.[7] This was also the first feature length dramatic film which Mehta both wrote and directed, a practice which she would continue throughout the rest of her career.[6]

Earth focuses on the time before and during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and how the life of one family was uprooted by this historical event. The film resembled Mehta's own family history as her parents fled the newly created Pakistan in 1947 whilst Mehta herself was born in Punjab, not far from the Indian/Pakistan border.[6]

Water is the story of an eight-year-old child widow who is forced to enter a house of widows for the rest of her life. The film, meant to be shot in India, was attacked by Hindu fundamentalists who saw the film as disrespectful and who took issues with Mehta's earlier films and their portrayal of Hindu culture.[17] Riots broke out, sets were destroyed, and death threats were issued towards the actors and Mehta, forcing production to stop. The regional government then overruled the permission given from the central government to the production which allowed them to film in the holy city of Varanasi however,[17] four years later the movie was made in Sri Lanka.[18] Water opened the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006.[19]

Midnight's Children[edit]

Mehta collaborated on the screenplay for Midnight's Children with the novel's author, Salman Rushdie.[20][21][22] Indian American actor Satya Bhabha played the role of Saleem Sinai[23] while other roles were played by Shriya Saran, Seema Biswas, Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, Siddharth Narayan, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan,[24] Shahana Goswami[25] and Darsheel Safary.[26]

The film was released on 9 September 2012 at Toronto International Film Festival[27] and would be nominated for Best Motion Picture along with 7 other nominations at the Canadian Screen Awards.[7]


Many of Mehta's films across her career have focused on the duality of her national and cultural identity which has informed much of her filmmaking as she has been described as the "quintessential transnational filmmaker".[28] With her childhood and heritage informing her of key Indian and Hindu traditions, she has been seen to compare these practices with a more "Westernized" philosophy that has often resulted in controversy.[17] The production of her film Water was delayed by protests from Hindu fundamentalists whilst several of her other films releases have seen boycotts across India, including the film Fire.[17]

Personal life[edit]

In Canada she met and married filmmaker Paul Saltzman whom she divorced in 1983. The couple have a daughter, Devyani Saltzman, an acclaimed author, curator and cultural critic.

Mehta is currently married to producer David Hamilton.[29] Her brother, Dilip Mehta, is a photojournalist and film director. He directed Cooking with Stella, which he co-wrote with Deepa.[5]

Mehta participated in a TV PSA for the charity Artists Against Racism, and is a member of the organization.[30]


Year Title Director Screenwriter Producer Notes
1975 At 99: A Portrait of Louise Tandy Murch Yes No No Documentary short film
1986 K.Y.T.E.S: How We Dream Ourselves Yes No Yes Documentary film
1988 Martha, Ruth and Edie Yes No Yes Directorial debut
1991 Sam & Me Yes No Yes
1994 Camilla Yes No No
1996 Fire Yes Yes Yes
1998 Earth Yes Yes Yes
2002 Bollywood/Hollywood Yes Yes No Also executive music producer
2003 The Republic of Love Yes Yes No
2005 Water Yes Yes No Also development consultant
2006 Let's Talk About It Yes No No Documentary film; direct-to-video
2008 The Forgotten Woman No Yes Executive Documentary film
Heaven on Earth Yes Yes Executive
2009 Cooking with Stella No Yes Executive
2012 Midnight's Children Yes Yes Executive Based on the novel by Salman Rushdie[20]
2015 Beeba Boys Yes Yes No [31]
2016 Mostly Sunny No Yes No Documentary film
Anatomy of Violence Yes No No
Fantassút No No Yes Documentary short film
The Big Crunch No No Associate Short film
2020 Violation No No Executive
2020 Funny Boy Yes Yes No Adaptation of the novel by Shyam Selvadurai

TV and web series[edit]

Year Title Director Screenwriter Executive
1976–1981 Spread Your Wings Yes Yes Yes Documentary:
director (4 episodes);
writer (episode "Child of the Andes");
executive producer (13 episodes);
production (2 episodes);
sound (10 episodes)
1989–1990 Danger Bay Yes No No 4 episodes
1993–1996 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Yes No No 2 episodes
2019 Leila Yes Yes Creative A Netflix original series based on a missing girl named leila:
director (2 episodes);
writer and creative executive producer (6 episodes)
2020 Little America Yes No No Episode "The Manager"

As actress[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1983 For the Record Ranjeet Singh TV Series (episode "Reasonable Force")
1990 Jurm Cameo
Aashiqui Cameo
2005 Water Special Appearance


Year Award Category Work Result
2016 Toronto International Film Festival Best Canadian Feature Film Anatomy of Violence Nominated
Valladolid International Film Festival Golden Spike – Best Film Nominated
Washington DC South Asian Film Festival Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema Won
2015 Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Clyde Gilmour Award Won
Toronto International Film Festival Best Canadian Feature Film Beeba Boys Nominated
2013 Canadian Screen Awards Achievement in Direction Midnight's Children Nominated
Directors Guild of Canada DGC Team Award – Feature Film Won
2012 London Film Festival Best Film Nominated
Valladolid International Film Festival Golden Spike – Best Film Nominated
2009 Directors Guild of Canada DGC Team Award – Feature Film Heaven on Earth Nominated
Genie Awards Best Screenplay, Original Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Director – Canadian Film Nominated
2008 Dubai International Film Festival Muhr AsiaAfrica Award: Best Scriptwriter – Feature Won
Muhr AsiaAfrica Award: Best Film – Feature Nominated
2007 Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon – Best Non-European Director Water Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards Best Director Nominated
Awards of the International Indian Film Academy Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema Won
2006 Genie Awards Best Achievement in Direction Water Nominated
Oslo Films from the South Festival Silver Mirror Award – Best Feature Won
New York Film Critics Humanitarian Award Won
San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival Audience Award – Best Narrative Feature Won
Taormina International Film Festival Arte Award Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Director – Canadian Film Won
Women Film Critics Circle Awards Best Foreign Movie by or About Women Won
2005 Toronto Female Eye Film Festival Honorary Director Award Won
Valladolid International Film Festival Youth Jury Award Water Won
Golden Spike Nominated
2003 Directors Guild of Canada DGC Team Award – Feature Film Bollywood/Hollywood Won
Genie Awards Best Screenplay, Original Won
Newport International Film Festival Student Jury Award Won
Sarasota Film Festival Audience Award – Best Comedy Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Director – Canadian Film Nominated
1997 Paris Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival Best Feature Film Fire Won
L.A. Outfest Outstanding Narrative Feature Won
Verona Love Screens Film Festival Best Film Won
1996 Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival Special Prize of the Jury Won
International Independent Award Nominated
Vancouver International Film Festival Most Popular Canadian Film Won
1976 Chicago International Film Festival Gold Hugo – Best Documentary At 99: A Portrait of Louise Tandy Murch Nominated

In addition to her filmmaking awards, Mehta has received the following honors:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Deepa Metha". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Deepa Mehta biography". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
  3. ^ "The Canadian Encyclopedia bio". Archived from the original on 4 December 2008.
  4. ^ "Welham Girls' School". Archived from the original on 15 October 2006. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
  5. ^ a b Beard. p 270
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Deepa Mehta – Celebrating Women's Achievements".
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Deepa Mehta".
  8. ^ "Deepa Mehta at the Canadian Women Film Directors Database".
  9. ^ Intern (27 June 2012). "A Forbidden Hope". Boston Review. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  10. ^ "Toronto film festival to 'salute' Indian cinema". The Economic Times. 3 September 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2008.
  11. ^ "Toronto to open with 'Demolition'; world premieres for 'Trumbo', 'The Program'". Screen Daily. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  12. ^ "Deepa Mehta movie 'Funny Boy' chosen as Canada's Oscar contender". Global News. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  13. ^ Naman Ramanchandran (18 December 2020). "Canada's Oscar Entry 'Funny Boy' Pulled From International Feature Film Race". Variety.
  14. ^ Zach Harper, "'Schitt's Creek' and 'Kim's Convenience' win big at 2021 Canadian Screen Awards". Hello! Canada, May 21, 2021.
  15. ^ Naman Ramachandran, "‘Schitt’s Creek,’ ‘Blood Quantum’ Triumph at Canadian Screen Awards". Variety, May 21, 2021.
  16. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (28 April 2006). "Movie Review: Water (2005): NYT Critics' Pick". New York Times.
  17. ^ a b c d e Burton, David F. "Fire, Water and The Goddess: The Films of Deepa Mehta and Satyajit Ray as Critiques of Hindu Patriarchy". Journal of Religion and Film. 17: 1–22.
  18. ^ "Deepa Mehta: A director in deep water – all over again". The Independent. 19 May 2006.
  19. ^ "Canadian Film Encyclopedia - Water".
  20. ^ a b "Rushdie visits Mumbai for 'Midnight's Children' film". Archived from the original on 14 January 2010. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  21. ^ Subhash K Jha (13 January 2010). "I'm a film buff: Rushdie". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  22. ^ Mendes, Ana Cristina; Kuortti, Joel (21 December 2016). "Padma or No Padma: Audience in the Adaptations of Midnight's Children". The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 52 (3): 501–518. doi:10.1177/0021989416671171. hdl:10451/29281. ISSN 0021-9894. S2CID 164759708.
  23. ^ "Deepa finds Midnight's Children lead". The Times of India. 21 August 2010. Archived from the original on 3 May 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  24. ^ Dreaming of Midnight's Children
  25. ^ Irrfan moves from Mira Nair to Deepa Mehta Archived 4 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Jha, Subhash K. (31 March 2011). "Darsheel Safary Darsheel Safary in Midnight's Children". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 9 June 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
  27. ^ Nolen, Stephanie (15 May 2011). "Mehta at midnight". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 May 2011.
  28. ^ Stojanova, Christina (2010). The Gendered Screen: Canadian Women Filmmakers. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 217–232.
  29. ^ "Deepa Mehta is rightly being celebrated". 23 February 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  30. ^ "TV – Artists Against Racism".
  31. ^ "Randeep Hooda plays gangster in Deepa Mehta's next".
  32. ^ "Honorary Degrees For Leaders in Arts, Business And Law". 5 November 2009. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  33. ^ "Canada's Top 25 Immigrants 2009". Canadian Immigrant. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  34. ^ "Rush wins Governor General's Award". CBC News. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
  35. ^ "Honorary degree recipients 21st century". Mount Allison University.
  36. ^ "Honorary degree recipients". Concordia University.
  37. ^ "25 Appointees Named to Ontario's Highest Honour". Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.
  38. ^ "Appointments to the Order of Canada". 28 June 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  39. ^ Ha Kyung-min (26 August 2021). "부산국제영화제, 경쟁부문 '뉴 커런츠' 심사위원 확정" [Busan International Film Festival Confirms Jury for 'New Currents' in Competition]. Newsis (in Korean). Naver. Retrieved 26 August 2021.

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