Bandit Queen star Seema Biswas has signed for a lead role in Deepa Mehta's Stella, a $4m comedy set to shoot in New Delhi immediately following production of the recently announced Heaven On Earth.

In a departure from form, Mehta will co-direct with her brother Dilip Mehta, production on many of her films.

The story follows the Upstairs, Downstairs milieus at the Canadian High Commission in the Indian capital when the new Canadian diplomatic couple arrives to disrupt the status quo. The High Commissioner is an Indo-Canadian woman who doesn't speak Hindi while her French-Canadian husband, a French-trained chef, is set to lock horns with Biswas' house chef. Mongrel Media will distribute in Canada.

Speaking exclusively to Screen International, long-time Mehta producing partner David Hamilton said the film would provide a showcase for the comedic skills of Biswas, who also starred in Mehta's Water. 'Because of Bandit Queen, she's thought of as a dramatic actor but she's a tremendous comedian.'

Hamilton said Hamilton-Mehta Productions is putting the finishing touches on Dilipi Mehta's feature documentary Forgotten Women, a contemporary account of the lives of the real-life widows portrayed in Water. Said Hamilton, 'When Water came out, people assumed that because it was a period film what happens to the women in the film is all in the past. It's happening today.'

Dilip Mehta wrote, directed and edited the film which will be released in Canada by Mongrel.

As to the status of other Mehta projects, Hamilton said Luna, to be produced by Baldwin Entertainment, has been pushed to the spring of 2008 to accommodate the schedule of lead Rachel Weisz. The Focus Features-backed title codenamed 'The Julia Project' remains in script stage, as does the previously announced Exclusion.