Meet Namrata – the inspiration behind Deepa Mehta’s Heaven on Earth

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Namrata Gill is one of the many real-life inspirations for Deepa Mehta’s film Heaven on Earth. After 6 years, she courageously left an abusive relationship and launched a surprising new career. This short film is her intensely personal story, told in her own words. The film is screening at Hot Docs, which is taking place in Toronto until May 9. Director Shazia Javed answered a few questions for me about the film:

Julie Matlin: How did this project come about?

Shazia Javed: I was first introduced to Namrata by a newcomer settlement services counselor. I was very impressed by the career she has chosen and later when I came to know the challenges she had faced and overcome, I was fascinated by her transformation. It is almost like a fairytale and yet is real! As I spent more time with her and got to know her better, I felt a documentary on her life could encourage women -especially immigrant women- in abusive marriages to seek help.

JM: What makes someone, like Namrata, come forward and speak up?

SJ: I was able to convince Namrata to share her story with the same belief with which I was making it – it might help other immigrant women in abusive relationships acknowledge abuse in their marriage if it exists. There is a lot of stigma attached to victims of spousal abuse in many immigrant communities including the Indian community. Such matters are not supposed to be discussed outside the four walls of the house. This stops many immigrant women from even seeking help. So it was important that they see another immigrant women -who has been able to change her life for better- talk openly about the abuse she suffered without a sense of shame or guilt.

And in her line of work, Namrata meets many such women and she knew how important it is to convince them to seek help. In fact, after the film’s screening in Edmonton, a few women did come up and talk about the abuse in their marriage.

JM: What were some of the difficulties you encountered while making this film?

SJ: Since this was the first film I pitched in Canada, my primary challenge was to find the right producer and convince them to put money in the project. My earlier films were all done in India where I learned filmmaking. So I had to prove myself as a filmmaker all over again and that takes time. Although I first wrote the treatment of the film in 2005, it was finally picked up by the National Film Board in 2007 and finished in 2009.

Also, although I originally wrote Namrata as an half-hour film, I had to make it under 10 minutes due to financing constraints. As a filmmaker, it was a challenge to come to terms with that and re-visualize my film in that duration. I did begrudge it then but now I realize it was an important exercise. As a filmmaker it is important to know how to tell your story effectively within a given time, which is what I did. And the feedback tells me that when a film is to be used for facilitation of workshops and initiating discussion, a shorter length film is indeed more useful.

For more information on the film and screening times, check the Hot Docs website.