Innis College Celebrates Deepa Mehta, Filmmaking and Fundraising

True story by ecodecoarora
Originally posted elsewhere on 6 November 2011

As I sit down to begin writing this post, it’s Wednesday and Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie are together in Toronto at an editing suite where she’s showing the author of Midnight’s Children the latest film clip from her upcoming feature length release of the same title.

The evening before, Mehta was dressed casual in dark khakis, a black sweater and a woollen Indian shawl with discretely embroidered detail that draped her petite frame. With long, dark, shiny hair, she appeared as having just stepped out of a salon, while her eyes were curious and kind. Mehta was in fine form and ever articulate during the Q&A that followed the screening, moderated by Charlie Keil, associate professor at the Institute of Cinema Studies. To the invited guests and members of the public, she admitted being stressed about the imminent meeting with her literary friend of five years.

Natasha Arora and Deepa Mehta at the filmmaker’s VIP cocktail, Innis College, University of Toronto, Fall 2011 Reaction shots: Katie Billo

I took my seat in the Town Hall at Innis College located on the sprawling campus of the University of Toronto. The auditorium, which hosts upward of 50,000 attendees at yearly events and screenings, is where the presentation with this filmmaker took place. Students, financiers, educators, professionals, and many other South Asians enjoyed a privileged pre-SR preview of her poetic and poignant film. Hosted by Janet Paterson, the principal used the stage to also signal the launch of the Town Hall fundraiser, a campaign to raise $3.25 million, the estimated budget to redesign this core space — the heart and soul of Innis College.

Overall, however, the sentiment I gleaned from the audience in this worn-out room desperate for a makeover, was one of pride and honour: how utterly cool to be able to watch Deepa Mehta’s unreleased film with the director herself! The eight-10-minute film clip held my attention from the first second; a superbly edited teaser of Midnight’s Children. The film will be stellar!

A daring and caring filmmaker, Mehta’s films have wide appeal because they are at once personal and mainstream. Her cinematic stories leave you pregnant with ideas and emotions about the universal themes of family, discord, love, zindagi (Hindi: life), and “change as the only constant”.

Facts about the making of Midnight’s Children

The idea of making a movie based on a Salman Rushdie novel was hatched more than three years earlier over dinner at the filmmaker’s Toronto home. Choosing which novel to adapt into a screenplay was her decision and an obvious one for the story’s “cinematic” qualities. The first draft delivered by Rushdie was (not surprisingly) a lofty 297 pages; an average film script is 120 pages. The film shot over 69 days in Sri Lankan settings with temperatures reaching 42 Celsius every day without reprieve. The cast comprised 30 actors of which 17 were main actors. There were 64 locations and the storyline spanned 60 years. Wow!

Adding to real-life drama, the Sri Lankan government had created permit issues threatening to stall film production via political pressures from Iran over the shooting of a Rushdie-adapted screenplay — despite the lifting of the fatwa twenty years prior. Eventually, and thankfully, the issues were resolved.

The logistics of making an epic film where “design was very important, cinematography and costume design” with layered histories, required that Mehta take to the gym eight weeks before the start of international production. She attributed a steady routine acquired at the JCC (Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre) for keeping her “fit, alert” during the filming “marathon”.

A beautiful autumnal evening in my adopted city had come to an end. While leaving the campus on foot, I couldn’t help but wonder how lovely it would be to have many more colourful conversations with Deepa Mehta. Affable and talented, she has so many more stories to tell and share!