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    After 'Water', I feel I could retire: Deepa Mehta

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Tuesday, April 26, 2005
    Deepa Mehta can finally breathe easy.

    After causing a spark in a tinderbox, her film "Water" is finally complete and ready for an early release. With a new cast and new settings, the film will hit theatres in November.

    "I''m so glad I''ve got it out of my system. Now I feel I could just retire. I''m that satisfied with ''Water''," said the director, speaking to IANS on phone from her villa in suburban Toronto.
    The film's rights have been given to NRI entrepreneur Ajay Virmani, who has financed some Hindi films earlier.

    "'Water' was the last of my elemental trilogy after 'Fire' and 'Earth'. I felt incomplete without it. I just had to make 'Water'," said the director, whose script had sparked violent protests and even death threats in India.
    But will it be shown in India? "I hope so." Mehta has her fingers crossed.

    "It must be seen by Indians to know how unfair the fundamentalists were in their premature perceptions on the film's theme.
    "(But) it's entirely up to Virmani when he chooses to releases it in India. On my part, I'm just elated to have made this film."

    The period piece on the Indian widows in the 1930s had been thwarted even before its shooting began in February 2000.
    The Uttar Pradesh government withdrew the film's location permits as mobs stormed the ghats along the Ganges, destroying the film's sets and burning effigies of Mehta.

    "I've gone through an ordeal by fire - no pun intended. In fact (Pakistani litterateur) Bapsi Sidhwa has written a book on the making of 'Water', which will be published when the film is released," Mehta laughs.
    But she was not to be deterred.

    Last year, Mehta got together a new cast. Seema Biswas replaced Shabana Azmi. John Abraham and Lisa Ray took over the roles originally marked for Akshay and Nandita. The film was shot and completed in Sri Lanka, instead of Varanasi.
    "All those who have seen the film have told me it's my best work, though I like all the three parts of my trilogy equally. But since 'Water' underwent a very painful gestation period, I guess it will always remain my favorite."

    Mehta is all praise for her cast.
    "Seema Biswas is outstanding as usual. But it's John and Lisa who are going to stun the audiences. For all those who think Lisa would be unconvincing as a Hindu widow, the film is a revelation," she said.

    "My script required the girl to be a lotus in a murky pond. That's exactly how Lisa comes across. As for John he has left all of us overwhelmed. When he came to Sri Lanka to shoot for 'Water' he was fully prepared.
    "He knew how to wear the dhoti, how to play the flute. He knew the body language and the historicity of his character and he simply transformed into the character.

    "The chemistry he shares with Lisa onscreen has to be seen to be believed. She's so fragile and vulnerable and he's so strong and yet so sensitive."
    And how does she assess her film? "It's pure and honest, not melodramatic at all.

    "For me the final seal of approval came from A.R. Rahman. When he saw the film he was completely overwhelmed. The music score that Rahman has done for 'Water' has given the film a whole new dimension. In fact, I couldn't have made 'Water' without him, or John, Lisa, Waheeda Rahman and Seema Biswas."
    Besides "Water", Mehta is delighted by the turn of events in the Hindi film industry this year. "Films like 'Page 3', 'Black' and 'My Brother ... Nikhil' show the audiences are ready for a change.

    "'Nikhil... ' I believe is about a HIV positive gay man. When my 'Fire' was released in India, the fundamentalists had argued there was no lesbianism in India!"

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