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Diasporic identities, divine presences and the dynamics of power in Deepa Mehta's filmography (1996-2008)

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This dissertation explores Hindu diasporic identities through the medium of four films directed by Deepa Mehta. The analysis of Fire (1996), Earth (1998), Water (2005) and Heaven on Earth (2008) reveals the contrary nature of Hindu culture, while simultaneously providing measures to negotiate a culture that is thousands of years old. The film texts were selected as they have caused controversy while also initiating debate, both within the Indian sub-continent and the Indian diaspora. Utilising post-colonial and feminist discourses, I explore the ability for marginalised individuals (women, children and queer individuals) to gain access to power through structures that have previously resulted in oppression and subjugation. These structures include culture, gender, sexuality and the forces of colonialism. I reveal how subjects, despite their oppression, are able to gain some agency, voice and cohesion. Within contemporary society the social standing of women, both within the diaspora and the Indian sub-continent, needs re-evaluation. My research therefore illustrates how marginalised individuals are positioned within Hindu culture and demonstrates that there is no justification for the mistreatment of such individuals. Hindu culture is one of the few cultures that is primarily devoted to the worship of the female figure. An in-depth and critical analysis of Hindu mythology places the Goddess and female figure at the centre of Hindu culture. This stands in contrast to the patriarchal elements that have come to define Hindu culture. Re-affirming the place of women within Hindu culture bestows them with power, equal to that which men wield. Through her filmography, Mehta uses Hindu mythology to reveal the double standards that Hindu culture embodies. Mehta also exposes the endless possibilities that mythology exhibits for the change in treatment towards marginalised individuals.


M. A. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2014.


Mehta, Deepa, 1949-, Motion pictures--India., Group identity--India., Hindu mythology., Hindu diaspora., Theses--English.