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The Rediff Interview / Shabana Azmi
'I hope Water wins the Oscar'
January 25, 2007
Deepa Mehta's Water has put India back on the Oscar map.
Officially Canada's entry to the 79th Annual Academy Awards, Water stars John Abraham and Lisa Ray. Of course, this was not the original cast. Deepa Mehta had first started making this film with Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. The film, however, never got complete as it aroused strong protests during its Varanasi shoot.
As we celebrate Water's Oscar nomination, Shabana spoke to Priyanka Jain about the furore the film had caused then, and her disappointments.
Water, which you were a part of earlier, has made it to the Oscars. How do you feel?
Absolutely delighted because it has vindicated my faith in the film. But it is a personal disappointment for Nandita and me that we could not be part of the film. It was more important for me that the film should be made so that the forces that try to curb the freedom of expression cannot claim victory.
I am thrilled for Deepa Mehta, and everyone involved in the film. I haven't seen it but I am looking forward to doing so.
Why were you not approached for Water when it was being filmed the second time?
Nandita and I were approached. Deepa told us that the distributors are not willing to touch the film -- that wherever it would be made again, it would spell trouble. With broken hearts we had to agree (to a different cast) because the film was more important than our personal disappointments.
Did you know when the shooting started and where it was happening?
They kept it very quiet the next time round. But I knew the shoot was to take place in Sri Lanka.
I believe that Seema Biswas must have done a splendid job. She is a very fine actress.
After it was announced that the film was nominated by the Oscars, did you call up Deepa to congratulate her?
I haven't been in touch with Deepa at all.
Do you think Water will bring home the Oscar?
I hope that it will win. I would pray for it. But even if it did not, the honour of it being nominated is huge because the rest of the films are -- according to Deepa herself -- really good films. If she is at par with people like [Latin director] Pedro Almodovar (whose Volver has also been nominated), that's a huge achievement.
What really happened when Water was being filmed in India?
I was outraged when we were thrown out of Varanasi after the film's shooting was stalled. The film was being judged even before anybody had seen the script. You cannot do that to products of art.
I remember the day we went to shoot. I was told that there are 10,000 people on the streets who are demonstrating against the film, so it wasn't safe for me to go to the location.
I was a member of Parliament then and I said I want to see the orders in writing from the district magistrate. They kept me hanging there for an hour and then said that the magistrate isn't in town. So, I went ahead.
They threatened that they would have to take precautions if something happened. When I asked them if they would arrest me, they said they might have to.
I went ahead anyway, and told them that they need to protect my right to go to work. When we went on the street, there was not a single soul there -- leave alone 10,000 people as they claimed!
We went there with 400 Rapid Action Force jawans. And only 12 people came outside and shouted slogans against Deepa and Water. But In spite of the 400 soldiers, they could not control those 12 people!
So what did you do?
The administration and the people there said in no uncertain terms that you have to pack up and leave the city. We raised loud protests, went to the district magistrate, demonstrated -- did all kinds of things. But ultimately, when you have the entire administration against you, what can you do? I was told later by the senior superintendent of police of that area that he was glad we left because the 'biggies' were hell bent on not allowing us to progress.