Deepa Mehta is an Indo-Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter who is also the co-founder of Hamilton-Mehta Productions. Often described as a “transnational” artist, her movies that are usually based on controversial topics, challenging traditions, and stereotypes, have been played at almost every international film festival.
Deepa Mehta was born on Sunday, 1 January 1950 (age 72 years; as of 2022) in Amritsar, Punjab, India. She moved to Delhi with her family in her childhood. Later, she did her schooling at Welham Girls High School, Dehradun, a boarding school. Mehta went ahead to get a degree in Hindu Philosophy from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. After her graduation, Deepa made some documentaries in India. After her marriage in 1970, she moved to Canada, where she settled along with her husband, Paul Saltzman.
Height (approx.): 5′ 5″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Black
Deepa Mehta belongs to a family with a background in the Indian film industry.
Parents & Siblings
Her father, Satwinder Mehta, made a living by becoming a film distributor, and her mother, Vimla, was a homemaker. Her younger brother Dilip Mehta is an Indo-Canadian photojournalist, who is known for his five-year coverage of the Bhopal gas tragedy. The brother-sister duo worked together to write the script of Cooking with Stella (2009), a Canadian light comedy film.
In an interview, while talking about her relationship with cousin Ritu Kumar, who is a well-known fashion designer, Deepa said,
I was about 2 years old when she announced to the family that I looked like a doll and my pet name courtesy her became ‘Dolly’! Terribly embarrassing to get rid of as I became older!”
Husband & Children
Deepa fell in love and got married to a Canadian documentarian, Paul Saltzman, in India in 1970. Three years later, the couple moved to Toronto, Canada, where they welcomed their daughter Devyani Saltzman, who grew up to become an eminent author and a critic.
Mehta got separated and divorced Paul in 1983 after which she got married to a Canadian film producer, David Hamilton, who holds an MBA from Harvard University. He is also the co-founder of Hamilton-Mehta Productions .
Expressing her religious views on Hinduism in an interview, Deepa stated,
Hinduism didn’t start as a religion. It started as a philosophy. It’s a way of life. Whether you go from Shankara-chariya to Ramanuja… the charvaka school… the yoga school or any of the other Hindu schools of thought. You had the charvakas who were totally- who came out as a reaction to the Brahmanical [philosophy]. There has always been an antithesis or a questionmark, and Hindu philosophy has always been one that has questioned itself and realized that only by changing, by evolving, can a way of thinking, or a way of thought or a philosophy flourish. That’s the beauty of Hinduism”
She further elaborated the extremism in all the religions and quoted,
But then you have extremists coming in and that changed the perception and people who live Hinduism, and the people who dont… from one of the most open-minded schools of thought or philosophy or religion, ever in the world, to be an extremist one. Suddenly you had the BJP on the right and the RSS. I think that when extremist forces come in, whether it’s in Hinduism, whether it’s in Islam, whether it’s in Christianity as it is right now… or even in Buddhism, what happens is first an interpretation of a thought or a religion becomes the law. It becomes exclusive, and that’s the danger.”
Deepa Mehta directed her first documentary ‘At 99: A Portrait of Louise Tandy Murch’ in 1975. Before making her directorial debut with the drama film Martha, Ruth and Edie (1988), she had already directed many documentaries like K.Y.T.E.S: How We Dream Ourselves (1986), Traveling Light (1986), and Saltzman produced CBC drama Danger Bay (1984–90).
Deepa Mehta is best known for her Elements Trilogy, Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005); the trilogy earned her both critical acclaim and the hatred of extremists in India and worldwide. The Element Trilogy was way ahead of its time and depicted uncomfortable social realities like a lesbian relationship between two housewives of estranged marriages (Fire), uprooting of a family during the partition of India (Earth), and the atrocities on a widow because of the conservative rituals and customs of the society (Water).
Some other notable works under her direction are Bollywood/Hollywood (2002), The Republic of Love (2003), Heaven on Earth (2008), Midnight’s Children (2012), Beeba Boys (2015), Anatomy of Violence (2016), and Funny Boy (2020). This includes some episodes of the television series Young Indiana Jones, asked by Star Wars director George Lucas to direct for him. Talking about her career as a filmmaker, Mehta says,
I see myself as a very emotional filmmaker rather than a radical,”
After completing her education, Mehta started working for a production house in India. At the time of her marriage, she was in the middle of producing her first feature-length film based on a child bride. Later, after getting settled in Canada, she started a production house named Sunrise Films along with her husband Paul and brother Dilip. Under this production house, they produced many documentaries including a television series titled Spread Your Wings (1977–79). Later, she became the co-founder of Hamilton-Mehta Productions under which she produced some exemplary films such as K.Y.T.E.S: How We Dream Ourselves (1986), Martha, Ruth and Edie (1988), and Sam & Me (1991). She has also produced two out of the three films of her critically acclaimed Elements Trilogy, Fire (1996) and Earth (1998) under this production house.
- After the release of her film Fire, Deepa had to face the ire of a section of society that was not comfortable with the subject of a lesbian relationship in the film following which her effigies were burned, and she was also labelled as anti-national. Moreover, the cast of her upcoming films was also threatened.
- The production of her movie Water was delayed for four years because the extremists destroyed the sets, issued death threats to her and the actors, took to the street and started riots, and forced the shutdown of the production of this film in India as they believed their traditional values were hurt. Eventually, the movie was shot in Sri Lanka.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
For Anatomy of Violence
- Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema by Washington DC South Asian Film Festival in 2016
For Beeba Boys
- Clyde Gilmour Award by Toronto Film Critics Association Awards in 2015
For Midnight’s Children
- DGC Team Award – Feature Film by Directors Guild of Canada in 2013
For Heaven on Earth
- Muhr AsiaAfrica Award: Best Scriptwriter – Feature by Dubai International Film Festival in 2008
- Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema by Awards of the International Indian Film Academy in 2007
- Silver Mirror Award – Best Feature by Oslo Films from the South Festival in 2006
- Humanitarian Award by New York Film Critics in 2006
- Audience Award – Best Narrative Feature by San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in 2006
- Arte Award by Taormina International Film Festival in 2006
- Best Director – Canadian Film by Vancouver Film Critics Circle in 2006
- Best Foreign Movie by or About Women by Women Film Critics Circle Awards in 2006
- Honorary Director Award by Toronto Female Eye Film Festival in 2005
- Youth Jury Award by Valladolid International Film Festival in 2005
- DGC Team Award – Feature Film by Directors Guild of Canada in 2003
- Best Screenplay, Original by Genie Awards in 2003
- Student Jury Award by Newport International Film Festival in 2003
- Audience Award – Best Comedy by Sarasota Film Festival in 2003
- Best Feature Film by Paris Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival in 1997
- Outstanding Narrative Feature by L.A. Outfest in 1997
- Best Film by Verona Love Screens Film Festival in 1997
- Special Prize of the Jury by Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival in 1996
- Most Popular Canadian Film by Vancouver International Film Festival in 1996
Miscellaneous Awards and Honours
- Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (2007 Academy Awards)
- Honorary doctorates from five Canadian universities
- Named one of Canada’s Top 100 most powerful women (Women’s Executive Network, 2011)
- Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award Winner (2009)
- Global Leadership Award by Indian International Film Awards in 2011
- Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2012
- Named to the Order of Ontario and appointed to the Order of Canada in 2013
- Inducted into the Canadian Walk of Fame in 2016
- Lifetime Achievement Award at the Canadian Screen Awards (2019) in Toronto
- While growing up in Amritsar, a border district of India near Pakistan, Deepa developed a keen interest in the tales of India’s partition. Speaking about the same she says,
Even when I was growing up in Amritsar, we used to go every weekend to Lahore, so I just grew up around people who talked about it incessantly and felt it was one of the most horrific sectarian wars they knew of.”
- Besides being a filmmaker and a producer, Deepa Mehta has also tried her hand in acting. She can be seen as Ranjeet Singh in the episode Reasonable Force of the Canadian television series For The Record (1983).
- She has done cameos in films like Jurm (1990) and Aashiqui (1990).
- A little known fact about Deepa Mehta is that she did a special appearance in her most talked about movie Water (2005).
- When asked about her favourite character in the film Water, Mehta said,
In the film? Shakuntala.”
- She serves on the board of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Toronto International Film Festival, and on the Minister’s Advisory Council for Arts and Culture (Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport).
- Deepa Mehta loves to enjoy alcoholic beverages on various occasions.