Picture courtesy of viewauckland.co.nz

Last month, I attended a banquet held at a Marriot in the suburbs of Chicago It was a fundraiser for the Indo-American Center, an organization that provides various services to underprivileged families and individuals from the Indian Subcontinent, some living in the heavily desi area of town called Devon. There was a special guest at this event, filmmaker Deepa Mehta. I had heard her name before but hadn’t watched any of her movies; she’s known to be somewhat “controversial” in India, although she clarified that she doesn’t go out of her way to try to create a fervor, it just happens sometimes due to a stigma associated with some of the topics she covers. She insisted that she makes the movies she does to try to develop a keen sense of awareness in her audience of the issues surrounding us instead of looking at their life, their family, or their country through “rose colored glasses”.

Her latest movie, Water, is the last in a trilogy of movies covering subjects that include the right to sexual freedom and fierce nationalism, aptly named Fire and Earth respectively. Water is about the widows of India, and is Canada’s Oscar nominee for best foreign film. It is based on actual events that have transpired in India and explores the plight of widows of all ages, banished to the town of Varanasi and made to follow strict customs as are supposedly required of widows. such as in the Elemental trilogies. Coincidentaly, Lotus just posted a great book review on Water, which was written by Bapsi Sidhwa after the movie was made.

At the banquet, Deepa Mehta was very articulate in her responses to questions posed to her, and diplomatic when asked by a rather foolish gentleman “So Ms. Mehta, what is the monetary reward for winning an Oscar?” We burst out laughing, and I starting giving my table a mock response to this question, beginning with “Well sir, first we receive the gift baskets, which contain round trip plane tickets for 2, some dutch chocolate, some fine mints…but it’s too bad we have to pay taxes on them this year…” I couldn’t believe he was asking her this question, and not in a facetious manner either. He actually wanted to know how much she would get paid if she won the Oscar. I thought it was a pretty stupid question considering she had just spent the evening talking about how she feels priviledged that she could help out organizations such as the Indo-American Center using both her movies and part of the proceeds from them.

Towards the end of her interview, the crowd started getting restless because it was close to eight o’ clock and dinner was about to be served; we could smell the channa masala and butter chicken. But, listening to Deepa Mehta talk about her movie, seeing how passionate she truly is about the issues in her movies, and her dedication to making a positive change however small, in addition to the previews that were played on the aggravatingly defunct dvd player are making me curious about her movies.

I watched Water, and it was really well made. Beautiful photography, appropriate soundtrack, excellent casting. It’s the story of a little girl who loses a husband she never knew she had, and the time she spends in a widow-house in Varanasi. People within the shelter take on different roles towards the girl, who seems to bring some joy to the shelter despite its pervading gloom. I couldn’t believe that parents would leave their kids there just because of existing customs. I guess I can understand that over time, the women had come to accept the fact that they were banished to this place due to no fault of their own, and that there was nothing they could do to change it…but how heartless do the parents have to be to leave their child in a strange place simply because it’s decreed somewhere that they must?? The movie was depressing, but I was pretty angry at the plight of these women…particularly the children that are forced into this. Anyone know if this is still really common?

Cross posted here