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January 31, 2000
UP government decides not to allow shooting of Water
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
The Uttar Pradesh government has finally made it loud and clear that film-maker Deepa Mehta will not be allowed to go ahead with the shooting of her latest venture, Water, to be filmed in Varanasi.
Yet another controversial theme picked up by the Canada-based director of Fire and Earth invited the ire of both the state government and the residents of the ancient Hindu city.
If Fire resulted in much fireworks because of the lesbianism in the movie, Water seeks to project that young widows in Varanasi were often led into prostitution until as late as the 1930s.
Taking strong exception to this, state Finance Minister Harish Chandra Srivastava told rediff.com, "I fail to understand why Deepa Mehta is always up to some mischief; why must she only show Indian culture in a poor light?"
Srivastava, who himself hails from Varanasi, said he finds the film's theme "rather objectionable". He wondered, "Why can't she highlight the rich cultural heritage that Varanasi was known for if she wants to make a film here?"
The minister lamented that many Indian film-makers only seek to make a quick buck by projecting the country before foreign audiences in a negative light.
Meanwhile, Varanasi District Magistrate Alok Kumar formally withheld the permission he had earlier granted Mehta to shoot her film in the presence of an observer appointed by the Union information and broadcasting ministry. "Since the observer, Mr Krishna Murari, has sought a week's time to read and understand the script that was in English, we had no choice but to disallow Mehta from going ahead with her shoot," Kumar told rediff.com on telephone.
The I&B ministry had found none better than its local All-India Radio man in Varanasi for monitoring the shoot.
But since the film is being made under a foreign banner, it will not require clearance by the Central Board of Film Certification if it were to be sent back to the country where the production company is based (Canada).
The administration has said "no" to Mehta on the grounds that shooting the film could lead to a serious law-and-order problem. On Sunday, a demonstration led by politicians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had turned violent, with some activists tearing down portions of the movie set.
Meanwhile, several local social voluntary organisations have also come out against the film-maker for what they term her "deliberate distortion of the history and culture of Varanasi".
The Kashi Vidwat Parishad, which is the oldest and most recognised body of Varanasi's intellectuals, Veer Abdul Hamid Foundation and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's cultural wing, Sanskar Bharati, have all opposed Mehta's alleged attempt to give a "coloured" version of the culture of the ancient Hindu city.
Ram Raksha Tripathi, chief of the Kashi Vidwat Parishad, clarified in a statement, "We have nothing against Mehta, but if she really does not mean any ill-will, let her take the people of Varanasi into confidence and publicly announce her script."
He said it was not enough for Mehta to claim that the script had been approved by the I&B ministry.
Mehta and other members of her unit are said to be thinking of submitting the script to a committee of prominent citizens to allay the BJP's doubts. But the director has vehemently denied that the film distorts the city's culture and insisted that its relates to the struggle of a young widow to seek liberation for herself and her country. Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Akshaye Khanna and Kulbhushan Kharbanda essay the lead roles.
But not everyone has opposed the film. Some progressive cultural organisations have condemned yesterday's incident, calling it an attack on the freedom of expression and Varanasi's culture.
Sanjay Chaturvedi, general secretary of the art group 'Craft', said in a statement that some "self-appointed defenders of the culture of Varanasi" were attacking the fundamental rights of creative people and creating an atmosphere of intimidation. He also accused "fascist organisations" of misleading the people about the film's theme.
Chaturvedi called upon cultural organisations and the citizens of Varanasi to face this challenge and save the true spirit of the city. 'Craft' is holding a seminar today on 'dangers to creative expression'.
Kripa Verma, a member of the national committee of the All-India Progressive Women's Association, said the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad were spreading misinformation about Water and using terror tactics. In a statement, she said attempts to cripple creative expression should be thwarted by everyone.
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