"Shwet" doesn't bother me: Deepa Mehta
The similarities between Deepa Mehta's "Water" and "Shwet" - Dharan Mandrayar's film on exploitation of widows released earlier this month - are too many to be mere coincidence.
Right now Mehta couldn't be bothered less as she prepares to premier the last of her elemental trilogy "Water" at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
Mehta is more amused than exasperated by first-time director Mandrayar's apparent attempt to steal her thunder by making and rush-releasing "Shwet", a film that seems "inspired" by "Water".
While "Shwet" deals with the emotional and sexual exploitation of four widows in an ashram at Vrindavan, a Hindu pilgrim town in Uttar Pradesh that is the haven of widows at the end of the road, Mehta's "Water" treads more or less the same tormented territory, though her widows are located in the West Bengal border.
In the original script of "Water", the widows played by Seema Biswas, Waheeda Rehman, Lisa Ray and child artiste Sarla were located in Varanasi, another Hindu holy town. The resemblances between the two films are too many - there is even a child widow in "Shwet"!
Speaking from Toronto, Deepa says: "'Water' was written five years ago. I began shooting for it in Varanasi immediately afterwards. But you know what happened thereafter. I was asked by BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) protestors to leave.
"I was seen as a foreigner invading cultural space or some such thing. Strangely, the maker of this other film about widows is California-based and his wife, who wrote the script, is American. So I leave you to judge whose credentials are culturally more suspect."
Mehta says she first heard about "Shwet" from Seema Biswas, who was offered Shwet.
"Seema probably thought it unethical to do similar films. I appreciate that. Such qualities are rare in today's show business. Before Seema told me about it I had never heard of 'Shwet' or White Rainbow. Very frankly, it doesn't bother me. Hasn't it come and gone already?"
But wouldn't a film identical in theme hamper the chances of "Water" when it is finally released in November?
Mehta is noncommittal.
"Frankly, it works both ways. Some people would groan and say, 'Oh no! Not another film about the plight of widows!' Others would surely want to check out what I've done with the theme...
"Honestly it is of no consequence to me. My film has some of the loveliest performances I have seen. John Abraham and Lisa Ray will be right up there with the hottest Hollywood men and women after 'Water'."