- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007


Indian moviegoers finally had a chance to see the Oscar-nominated film “Water” — about the plight of oppressed Hindu widows — when the movie opened across the country on Friday.

The shooting of the movie — directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta — in India had to be scrapped seven years ago following violent protests by Hindu extremists.

The Hindi-language film, Canada’s Oscar entry last month in the best foreign language film category, was released in 110 cinemas across India, distributor Ravi Chopra said.

“It has really been a long road — first to get it made, and then to get it on the screen here,” said Mr. Chopra, who is also a director and is known for making socially conscious movies.

“Water” tells the story of a group of widows forced to live as destitute “servants of god,” supporting themselves as beggars and prostitutes during British colonial times.

Hindu extremists denounced the movie as blasphemous and claimed the film was part of a plot to besmirch the image of Hinduism.

Miss Mehta, who was burned in effigy and faced death threats when she was trying to film the movie in India, had voiced apprehension about what might happen at cinemas here when it was released.

But Mr. Chopra said he wasn’t worried and that no special security arrangements had been made for the movie, which has been shown in more than 50 countries.

“There have been no problems. If there are, we will deal with them,” he said.

Miss Mehta began shooting the film in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, but mobs destroyed the movie set.

She abandoned plans to shoot the movie in India in 2000, after the state government of Uttar Pradesh — where Varanasi is located — declared it could not guarantee security.

Miss Mehta completed the film in Sri Lanka four years later and it premiered at the Toronto film festival in 2005.

“Nothing in this film should offend anyone’s sensibilities or feelings,” Mr. Chopra said.

Even after the film received acclaim from foreign audiences, Indian distributors were reluctant to show it, fearing trouble from Hindu radicals.

“I thought it was a very lovely film. I felt that Indian audiences should see the movie. That’s why I got the distribution rights,” Mr. Chopra said.

While the film is set some 70 years ago, some widows still live a life of poverty and isolation in India, shunned by their families as bringing bad luck.

Many, especially in rural areas, are abandoned by their families, who consider them a financial burden, and they are forced to beg at temples to survive.

“She [the widow] is not wanted. The easiest thing is to throw her out,” said women’s activist Mohini Giri, who runs a widows’ refuge in the temple town of Vrindavan, 80 miles south of the Indian capital, New Delhi.

“She only has status as a wife,” Miss Giri said.

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