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Updated: September 15, 2009 19:29 IST

Looking at Delhi afresh, in Toronto

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Shriya Saran poses at a photo session at the launch of
The Hindu Shriya Saran poses at a photo session at the launch of "Lux Shriya Comes Home" contest in Hyderabad recently. She will be present at the premiere of 'Cooking With Stella' along with other stars Lisa Ray, Don Mc Kellar, Seema Biswas. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

What emerges on the screen is a convincing composite portrait of a city which encompasses everything, the beauty of the monuments, the wonderful parks, the chaotic roads and the crowded markets infested with shopkeepers, as seen through the eyes of an open-minded outsider who is willing to accept, learn and absorb.

'Cooking With Stella', Dilip Mehta's much awaited debut film which explores India's capital city through the eyes of a Canadian expat, will have its world premiere at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival here.

The Delhi born photojournalist-turned-filmmaker's feature is a social satire set in Delhi's diplomatic enclave, the Canadian high commission to be precise, offering a warm and sensitive comment on the struggles of the domestic workforce found across well-to-do urban homes.

Co-produced by Mumbai's BR Films 'Cooking With Stella's star cast including Lisa Ray, Don Mc Kellar, Seema Biswas and Shriya Saran will be present at the premiere, but the saddening news that Ray is suffering from an incurable strain of cancer, is sure to cast a long shadow on the event.

"As a lifelong professional photographer who loves New Delhi, I was sensitive to the images of the city... and of India. Of course poverty and despair are huge parts of life in the capital city, but that is not the world that this particular movie sets out to explore," said the director.

The film opens with a half-Indian career-diplomat, Maya (Lisa Ray), arriving in Delhi to take up her new posting in the Canadian high commission. She is accompanied by her chef-husband, Michael (Don McKellar), and baby. The family is greeted by Stella Elizabeth Matthew (Seema Biswas), who has served as a cook in the high commission for three decades.

What emerges on the screen is a convincing composite portrait of a city which encompasses everything, the beauty of the monuments, the wonderful parks, the chaotic roads and the crowded markets infested with shopkeepers, as seen through the eyes of an open-minded outsider who is willing to accept, learn and absorb.

"So much of the film is based on my experiences living in Delhi, and my fascination with how different cultures interact in all sorts of ways, but especially around the question of the omnipresent domestic help and how it represents a culture shock for new arrivals in India," says Mehta.

The film is not completely devoid of Bollywood thrills, with a bit of masala thrown in the form of a love story involving the nanny, Tannu(Shriya Saran) and Stella's godson Anthony (Vansh Bhardwaj).

"It was great to get these moments with just the right amount of exaggeration and comedy without ruining the sweetness of Tannu and Anthony's love story," says Dilip.

Dilip and his sister, Deepa Mehta, the film's co-screenwriter and executive producer, were both born in Delhi but are Canadian citizens.

Dilip, served as production designer of the Oscar-nominated 'Water' besides directing the much-applauded feature-length documentary 'The Forgotten Woman' which chronicled the life of widows in contemporary India.

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