April 28, 2006

Indian-born filmmaker triumphs in test of faith

By Krittivas Mukherjee

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Six years ago, when Indian-born
director Deepa Mehta set out to make a film about the conflict
between conscience and faith, little did she expect the project
to end up testing her own beliefs.

As the film, 'Water', releases in theatres across the
United States on Friday, Mehta says her faith prevailed just
like that of the young Hindu widows in the story who struggle
to escape the stigma that forces them into a dreary existence.

The Hindi-language "Water" deals with the oppressed lives
of widows in the murky ghettos of the Hindu holy city of
Varanasi set in 1930s India.

Such widow homes -- where tonsured women lived, draped in a
single piece of white cloth, begging and prostituting -- were
considered purgatories for widows whose sins supposedly killed
their husbands.

But two days into the shooting in 2000, hardline Hindu
protesters stormed Mehta's locale in Varanasi, burned the sets
and issued death threats, saying the film distorted Indian

"When it happened, in many ways it was absolutely
disheartening. There was no way of getting strength from
something that was so destructive," Mehta told Reuters in a
telephone interview from Washington this week.

"The strength only came later. That was the conviction of a
filmmaker. The strength came from my belief in the script,"
said Mehta, 56, who has lived in Toronto since she was 23.

Mehta waited for four years for her anger to ebb lest it
influence her vision of the film.

In 2004, she took her production to Sri Lanka, but kept the
shooting schedules secret and even filmed under a false name.


"Water" was released in Canada and Spain last year and is
due to come to India in July. Mehta hopes there would not be
any trouble in its Indian screening.

Through the eyes of an eight-year-old widow, "Water" tells
the story of Hindu widows and their desire to escape the
religious disgrace heaped on them.

Child marriages, then common, are now illegal. But the film
says that some widows in India still live in such conditions.

Mehta says her film is not all about exposing the follies
of any religion. The idea was to address the universal conflict
between faith and conscience.

"True faith should always be questioned, and this is
something that applies to all religions in the world. Water is
about the conflict of our conscience and our faith," she said.

'Water' completes Mehta's film trilogy that includes 'Fire'
and 'Earth'.

'Fire', which portrayed a lesbian relationship between two
Indians, was temporarily pulled from distribution in India
after theatres showing it were attacked by Hindu groups.

The common thread in the three films is the oppression of
Indian women and their response to it.

"I think the Indian woman is extremely strong and they are
finding for themselves a platform to take care of themselves,"
said Mehta.