Toronto-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta earned an Oscar nomination for Water, a "subtle study" of widows shunned by their families and society at large in 1930s India. It is the final part in Mehta's acclaimed 'Elemental' trilogy, which has stirred controversy in India. Despite threats made against her life, she continues to make films in her homeland and is gaining a higher profile abroad.
Mehta describes the Hindu widows as "walking dead" in a Making Of featurette, but actress Lisa Ray (who plays Kalyani) adds that these women "are not necessarily objects of pity". In looking at how the Hindu scriptures have been purposefully misinterpreted to marginalize them (for "economic reasons" according to Mehta) the subject of religious fundamentalism also rears its ugly head. It isn't just a theme of the film, but an obstacle faced by Mehta in trying to get it off the ground. Archive video captures the furore that kicked off in India when she announced her intentions to make this film over six years ago.
Going With The Flow
In an hour-long TV special, Mehta shares her innermost feelings about the bullish resistance of Indian authorities and the death threats she received in 2000. She describes it as one of the darkest moments in her life, when she began to question her "life choices" and the notion of her own identity. Of course, the story wouldn't leave her mind, even while she worked on less emotive projects, but she insists there was never meant to be a trilogy. In an echo of her recent troubles, she talks about the evolution of the characters in Water and the journey of self-discovery that each of them is forced to embark on.
Kalyani confides in child widow Chuyia (Sarala) in one of two deleted scenes. She seeks information about her sweetheart Narayan (John Abraham), who also features in another sequence. In that, Narayan's mother proposes that he marry a 13-year-old girl - of course the enlightened young man balks at this idea. (Note: This footage, like the film, can be viewed in either English or Hindi.)
An appeal from The Loomba Trust rounds off the special features disc, highlighting the continuing plight of widows in India. Certainly this isn't a DVD intended to wash over you, but one that will engage your mind and touch your heart.
Water (2 Disc) DVD is released on Monday 22nd October 2007.