Mehta recalls political intrigue stopping Midnight’s Children shoot

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As Deepa Mehta gets set to debut her latest film, Midnight’s Children (pictured), at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 9, the Canadian director recalled the moment the Iranian Embassy in Colombo brought her Sri Lankan shoot to a sudden halt.

“It happened a few weeks into shooting. David Hamilton, the producer, and I were on our way to set when David got a call and was told not to go to set as the production had been shut down by the local cinema body,” Mehta told Playback.

“It was all very strange because we had full permission to shoot by the Sri Lankan government, and I had even met the President (Mahinda Rajapaksa) for tea before we went to shoot,” she added.

The diplomatic incident also startled Mehta and Hamilton as they were in Sri Lanka to avoid a repeat of their first attempt to shoot Water in 2000 in Varanasi, India, where protests by Hindu fundamentalists forced a shutdown of production after the camera rolled for only one day.

“With Water I had a huge sense of foreboding when we were shut down in India, but I didn’t have the same sense with Midnight’s Children,” Mehta continued.

Resolving the political intrigue from the Iranian Embassy – especially as Mehta’s collaborator on the film, Salman Rushdie, was the subject of a fatwa from Tehran over his Satanic Verses novel – took a few days as President Rajapaksa was out of the country.

On his return, production quickly restarted.

“We’ll never know exactly what caused this, but such is the inherent unpredictability with politics,” Mehta insisted.

” It was certainly a bit scary because you never know, but in the end it was good chance to get caught up on sleep on what was a very demanding shoot,” she added.

That said, Mehta’s nerves will be tested again as she looks ahead to the world premiere of Midnight’s Children at Roy Thomson Hall on the first Sunday of the festival.

“I’m really happy with the Sunday night gala slot… though, it is always nerve-racking premiering a film. But certainly it’s a great slot to open. I’m very excited,” she said.

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NFB75Anniversary - (Left to right) Kat Cizek (Filmmaker in residence, director of the NFB’s Highrise), Jerome Zwicker (former NFB board member), Michelle van Beusekom (‎Assistant director general, English program), Anita Lee (NFB Ontario executive producer), Luisa Frate (NFB director general - CFO, COO, CTO), Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley, Anne-Marie Applin (former NFB board member), Claude Joli-Coeur (NFB Acting government film commissioner and chairperson), Deborah Drisdell (NFB director general, accessibility and digital enterprises), Kristine Collins (NFB director, education and institutional markets), Jérome Dufour (NFB director general of marketing and communications)