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Deepa Mehta coming to University of Calgary

Academy Award-nominated director to give 2016 Canwest Global Lecture - 'The Anatomy of Violence' 

Film director Deepa Mehta will deliver the 2016 Canwest Global Lecture on Feb. 3 at 3 p.m. in the Earth Sciences building (room 162), at the University of Calgary.

By Heath McCoy
January 26, 2016

As a lifelong fan of gangster films, clearly well versed in touchstones of the genre from Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter to Scarface and GoodfellasDeepa Mehta may have been prepared for the question that all mob movie directors have inevitably faced. “Are you romanticizing gangster life?”

Certainly, she answers sharply and with no hesitation. “I think there’s nothing romantic about ending up in a body bag.”

The internationally acclaimed Indo-Canadian director — noted for such films as Sam & Me (1991), Fire (1996) and the Oscar-nominated Water (2005) — is coming to Calgary on Feb. 2 for a showing of her latest film, Beeba Boys. The drama, about Sikh mob life in Vancouver, will be screened at the Globe Cinema at 7 p.m. The following day Mehta will appear at the University of Calgary to give a lecture entitled The Anatomy of Violence, in which she will explore the nature of violence as it has informed her films. That 2016 Canwest Global Lecture, organized by the Department of Communication, Media and Film,will be held at 3 p.m. in the Earth Sciences building (room 162).

Both events are free and open to the public.

Movie traces brash, stylish lifestyle of drug dealers

Whether her mobsters are ultimately romanticized or not, Mehta agrees there is a brash, stylish glamour to the vicious gang of drug dealers seen in Beeba Boys. This is very much by design, true to the nature and motivation of her characters in this violent, but at times comical drama.

“In many ways (Beeba Boys is) a film about identity, with issues of racism at play,” Mehta says. “These are young men, immigrants who feel marginalized in Canadian society. And becoming a part of these gangs is an easy and very tempting way for them to assert themselves. It’s about wanting to be seen and look cool.

“It’s sort of tragic, but when you’re a young male, 15 years old, your hero just may be the guy who says ‘I don’t take any crap from any white guy.’ It’s as simple as that.”

Might Mehta’s bold portrayal of a dashing but dangerous Sikh gang on the streets of Vancouver stir up racial tensions from some corners, in today’s world, so wrought with divisive, hot-button immigration issues?  

Painting a picture of complexity among immigrants

“I think the real problems arise when we stop telling certain stories because we’re afraid it’s politically incorrect,” Mehta answers. “Yes, I made a gangster film that happens to be culturally specific. But they all are. Look at what happened to (Francis Ford) Coppola when he made The Godfather. He angered the Italian community because they didn’t think it was a good representation. And certainly, all Italians are not Mafia members. Certainly, a lot of (Sikhs) come to Canada and excel as scientists or bankers. But does this mean we have to stop doing these films? Where do you draw the line? These are valid stories.”

She adds: “Some people want to deny immigrants their complexity, and I think that’s really wrong.”

These are some of the issues which Mehta may touch on in her Feb. 3 University of Calgary lecture on The Anatomy of Violence. Themes of violence have been a characteristic in many of her works, Mehta notes, from the gender violence in Fire to the racial tensions in Beeba Boys.

“Where we are in the world today is not very pleasant,” she says. “It’s extremely violent. I think that lack of knowledge leads to a lack of communication and that, in turn, leads to violence. Take the idea that every Muslim is a terrorist, for example. So often it is that lack of knowledge and that perpetuation of fear which leads to violence.”