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Water faces tough Oscar competition
Arthur J Pais in New York | January 24, 2007 11:28 IST
And yet those who know that her Hollywood admirers include Star Wars creator George Lucas and producer Ashok Amritraj, and have read the glowing reviews the film received in publications like the Los Angeles Times were not surprised in the least.
Lucas, for whom Mehta directed segments of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles over 12 years ago, published advertisements in Variety magazine when the shooting of Water was shut down in India because fundamentalist groups had perceived the film, which deals with the plight and exploitation of widows in Varanasi, to be anti-Hindu.
Mehta was in her Toronto home with her family and associates when the nominations were announced on Tuesday morning.
'It's been very fulfilling to have that kind of recognition,' Mehta told the Canadian media, 'and it's important for people who are marginalised in the world.'
She had told rediff.com earlier that while awards and honours are always welcome, it was quite gratifying to her that a film about widow exploitation and the Gandhian quest for a better world resonated with audiences across Canada and America.
"On campuses and at special screenings in smaller cities I have met people from Italy, Greece, Mexico -- you name it -- who were marginalised or severely exploited. Or they knew who were exploited, but did not always have the courage to stand up and fight."
Water faces formidable competition from two films. The German entry, The Lives of Others, is a taut thriller that examines the obsessive espionage of suspected dissidents during the last years of the Communist regime in East Germany in the 1980s. And then there is Mexico's Pan's Labyrinth, a dark, haunting political fantasy, which has been nominated in five other categories including best original screenplay.
Other nominees are Denmark's After the Wedding, which is partly set in an orphanage in Mumbai and has quite a bit of Hindi dilalogue, and Algeria's Days of Glory.
61 films from across the world were in the competiton. A shortlist of 9 films was released last week. Many people were surprised that Pedro Almodovar's highly acclaimed Volver did not make the final cut. It received just one nomination -- in the Best Actress category for Penelope Cruz.
Water became the fourth Hindi-language film to be nominated for the Oscar, starting with Mother India in the mid 1950s, followed by Salaam Bombay and Lagaan.
Water also became the first film to join the competition under the changed Oscar rules.
Earlier, a country was not allowed to nominate films that were not in its official language. That condition was overlooked by Britain, and its entry The Warrior, which was in Hindi but was produced by a British company, had to be withdrawn from the competition.
Canada has been offering either English or French films for the Oscars; the high-profile Water changed that scene forever.
The Deepa Mehta film, quietly shot in Sri Lanka two years ago, opened the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, and was released in America much after its successful run in Canada. With a $3.3 million American gross last year and about $2 million earned in Canada, it is the highest grossing Hindi film in North America.
The Oscar nomination for Water means several things: While it exited the movie houses many months ago, it is still available on DVD, having earned a decent $1 million in America. The novelisation of the film's script by Bapsi Sidhwa could also get a new lease of life.
Above all, the film pushes Mehta's stature in Hollywood. She has already been signed by Focus Films to direct a sad love story involving an American working class woman who marries a Korean prince and is shunned by the royal family because she cannot give him a child. Ironically, it is the man who is impotent. And yet the woman falls in love with her adopted country.
"I can never tire of making films about outsiders, and the marginalised people," says Mehta.