On Deepa Mehta: Catherine Von Ruhland Looks at the Indian Filmmaker's Latest Spot of Bother [Water]

By Von Ruhland, Catherine | New Internationalist, September 2000 | Go to article overview

On Deepa Mehta: Catherine Von Ruhland Looks at the Indian Filmmaker's Latest Spot of Bother [Water]


Von Ruhland, Catherine, New Internationalist


deepa Mehta has a rare talent for courting controversy. After the controversial Fire (about a lesbian relationship) and Earth (about the Partition of India and Pakistan) she has provoked fundamentalist ire with her latest venture, Water.

Filming at Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh was halted earlier this year because the local government feared violent disorder. Mehta tried to shift filming to Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal -- but they weren't exactly welcoming either.

So what's all the fuss about? Set in the 1930s, Water tells the story of a child widow abandoned in an ashram at Varanasi, on the banks of the sacred river Ganga, and forced into prostitution. That, say hardline Hindu critics, denigrates their religion and the sacred river. They also object that it 'shows India and its culture in a bad light'.

One of Mehta's main opponents is Vidya Nivas Mishra, a former university vice-chancellor and ex-chief editor of Nav Bharat Times. He says: 'Freedom of expression doesn't mean people can abuse one another. Why call it "water"? The story of a child widow abandoned in an ashram has nothing to do with the holy Ganga. The reference to the Ganga is not for truth's sake but for publicity. I fail to understand why the film was given permission. The script has a disparaging remark about Lord Krishna and also brands the Brahmin as an embodiment of corrupt practices.'

Not everyone thinks this way, of course. In February this year more than 1,000 prostitutes marched through Calcutta in silent protest to support Mehta: 'Disrupting Water is a fascist attempt to deny centuries of our history and our contribution to society,' said Mala Singh, Secretary of the National Network of Sex Workers.

The founder of the Clean Ganga Campaign, Veer Bhadra Mishra, had another perspective: 'What is all the fuss about? I am just amazed that we all have time and the inclination to tear a slim script to shreds, to induce violent acts, to prevent filming. …

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