By Krittivas Mukherjee, Reuters.Friday, April 28, 2006; 2:24 AM
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 culture.
"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.
TRILOGY OF ELEMENTS
"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.