Way back, in the year 2000, Hindu radical groups disrupted the filming of Deepa Mehta's Water, the third in a trilogy of movies. The film, about the life of Indian widows, was originally based in the holy city of Varanasi. But filming was stopped in February 2000 after just a day following widespread protests staged by Hindu radicals.
So what did Deepa do? She secretly moved to Colombia, code-named her film River Moon and secretly shot Water with a new star cast.
Said Deepa Mehta, "Water's journey was traumatic and anguished, but finally very satisfying. I came to terms with the tragic disruption of the film in Varanasi. I had to move on and yet make the film. My creative output wouldn't have been complete without finishing the trilogy after Fire and Earth. There were no hassles in getting permission for shooting in Colombia. We made a film without politics coming in our way. I'd have loved to make the film in India."
Did Water suffer by the translocation?
Deepa thinks. "I don't think my film suffered because of the transposition. I didn't have to look anxiously over my shoulders at who's shooting the next volley at my film. I could just focus on making the film. That fear is a real impediment to creativity. I let all the fear and insecurity play itself out. I couldn't stop myself from doing Water just because some people would read political statements in it. I made the film because I had to make it. It took me time to get over the trauma in Varanasi."
Though she hates being controversial Deepa has made peace with her reputation of the controversy queen and her status as an NRI actor. "I don't know why it happened with Fire and then Water. I made Water exactly the way I wanted to."
While casting, Kareena Kapoor agreed and then dropped out. Shabana Azmi had to bow out because it was felt the Hindu fundamentalists would be adamantly opposed to her portraying a Hindu widow.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati too was attacked by Hindu fundamentalists owing allegiance to the Rajput outfit known as the Karni Sena. They first hounded Padmavati out of Rajasthan, just as Deepa Mehta's Water was hounded out of Varanasi. Luckily, Bhansali didn't have to shoot his film in secrecy outside the country. He shot in Kolhapur where again, the shooting was disrupted.
Never one to give up , Bhansali continued shooting despite the protests… only to be gagged and dragged through the mud just weeks before the release date, by self-appointed custodians of our culture who have presumed Padmavati to contain inflammatory references to a liaison between Rani Padmavati and Allauddin Khilji.
Bhansali has gone blue in the face denying these fantastical conjectures about his film. "Am I so insane as to do something so outrageous?" he asks rhetorically.
But the protesters are no in the mood to listen. They have made up their minds about the incendiary content of Padmavati. Even if they are barking up the wrong tree, so what? They at least have a tree to bark up. And they aren't about to give up their moment of glory.
And to hell with the truth about Padmavati.
Says Deepa Mehta, "All gagging, whether in literature, cinema or art is identical. It's referred to as the lynching of freedom of expression. Creative freedom is a given in most Western countries."
(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)