Associated Press, Mumbai, February 17, 2006
Indian-born director Deepa Mehta, who was forced to shift the shooting of Water from Varanasi to Sri Lanka after aggressive protests by Hindu nationalists, says Indians are scared of questioning their traditions.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a hard-line Hindu organisation, warned Mehta against an Indian release of her film Water, which depicts the harsh treatment of Indian widows in the 1930s. Protests in the Hindu religious center of Varanasi, where the film was being shot, forced her to suspend filming in 2000. Hindu nationalists said the film was anti-Hindu, an allegation Mehta rejected.
"I couldn’t make Water until I stopped being angry … it took me five years to get over my anger," Mehta said in an interview. "Why are we so scared of showing the truth? Why can’t we question aspects of our tradition that aren’t so great?" Mehta said moving the shoot to Sri Lanka "gave me more freedom to do what I wanted to. Varanasi had become a character in itself. As this gigantic place of worship, Varanasi had become too large in my mind."
"Once I moved away from Varanasi, I felt creatively liberated," she added.
The movie, which centers on a home where widows are sent by their families, opened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Mehta said she "wasn’t sure when it would be shown in India."
Deepa Mehta’s Water deals with widows in Varanasi. Widows were considered bad luck under ancient Hindu tradition. They were not allowed to remarry, although widowers could. "There is a lingering regret that instead of doing something about the abandoned widows, people aren’t even getting to see a film on the theme," she said.