As artists and creative minds, we have a certain commitment to ourselves alone. We are only obedient to our thoughts and beliefs and that is essentially how a work of art is made. One director that shows the utmost obedience to her beliefs is Deepa Mehta and we see this clearly in her Elements Trilogy, where the first film, Fire (1996), was a love story between two Indian women. Earth (1998) was about the partition of India and Pakistan, and Water (2005) was about the lives of widows in India. All were controversial in their own right in that they opposed many conservative Indian beliefs and formed a discussion on certain issues. From that we can clearly see that Mehta only writes and directs films about issues she strongly cares about.
We can also say the same for her newest film, Beeba Boys (2015). As an Indo-Canadian filmmaker, she felt strongly about the Indo-Canadian gang warfare that is an existing issue in present-day Vancouver. It is evident that she still holds close her transnational identity but has also evolved in that she has become aware of the youth and therefore more aware of modern issues relating to trans-nationality. This led her to making a gangster film, which can explore those modern issues. From that, comes the relatability aspect. Many Canadians, even those not necessarily of Indian origins, can understand where many of the characters are coming from in terms of misunderstandings and cultural differences. Nonetheless, Mehta fails to receive any kind of sympathy from her audience in a human level, not a transnational one. This will be talked about a bit further in the essay.
Firstly, Beeba Boys does successfully cover the basics of a mafia movie. Looking at any mafia classic, like the Italian-American gangster films, which can also be considered transnational, fundamentally what they show are the negative effects of the mistreatment of minorities. Right in the beginning of the film, when the main character, Jeet Johar, is being interviewed on live TV, he says, “nobody fucks with the Chinese ever since Bruce Lee came in the scene and kicked ass. Right? And Jeet Johar is here to make sure that no motherfucker fucks with the Indos ever again.” From the start, we are given a cause, and a justifiable one at that. Another characteristic of the mafia genre is the left-behind loved one, usually an alcoholic or/and an addict, showing the outcome of being surrounded by or apart of the gangster lifestyle. We see this with Jeet’s father who is an alcoholic and Katya, who becomes Jeet’s girlfriend in the film and then subsequently becomes a drug addict. So, in short, Mehta includes two important details that establish the message that she wishes the film sends out which is the self-defense a community is sometimes forced to form in order to feel safe, and the victims of gang warfare that go unnoticed.
As mentioned before, there is the relatability aspect in the film as well. To those who have migrated and share that culture or are part of any other culture but Canadian can understand the struggles that the characters go through in the film. One scene hilariously displays the struggle or doubt that comes with fitting in in terms of their English. They are in the car and have an argument about the proper way to say ‘you and I’ and if it is ‘you and me.’ They end the argument with one of them saying, “No, you and I. I went to English.” Another example is the mothers only talking about their children which multi-national kids can understand and laugh at. There is also a part where Jeet’s girlfriend comments on how he still lived with his mom and how she thought that was cute, but it is actually common in that you live with your parents until you get married. Considering all these examples, diaspora is what Beeba Boys different from other mafia movies and it makes it unique. There is an awareness of it that other films do not have and are rather accepting of it.
However, what the movie lacked was that it was difficult to feel sympathy for any of the characters in the film. It seemed hurried in that many possible storylines were left behind. An example is the drunken dad or even Jeet’s relationship with his girlfriend. The relationship only seemed physical to the audience because that is all we saw and by the end we only watched passively when she got shot in the face. Mehta seemed to have gotten caught up with the action itself rather than the viewership and how the film would have been perceived. It seemed like it could have been told in any other form of storytelling. It was bland in that nothing stuck out film-wise. This is necessary because how else will you get people to care about the subject-matter in the film that happens to be an existing issue in reality.
Nevertheless Deepa Mehta sticks to what she knows. This is what she is surrounded with as an Indo-Canadian herself and this is what she feels strongly about. We still see her in the film. We see a brave and provocative mind behind every scene and we understand what she is trying to get at. From this, she should be given credit where it is due. However this can be said about a lot of aspiring storytellers from whom many still fail to form a connection between the film and the audience which is a result of her use of film as a storytelling medium, or lack there of in Beeba Boys.