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Shabana Azmi
"The script has been passed...without a single cut"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 14:18 GMT
Government urged to intervene over film

actress Actress Shabana Azmi goes bald to play a widow


An internationally-acclaimed film-maker has appealed to the Indian Government to intervene in a row which has prevented production of her latest controversial movie.

Director Deepa Mehta urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to intervene after a group of more than 100 Hindu nationalists destroyed sets for the film, Water, which had been constructed in the sacred city of Varanasi.

The protesters, believed to be members of Mr Vajpayee's Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), have claimed that the film's script would tarnish the city's reputation a place of learning and spiritualism.


vajpayee Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Urged to intervene
The state chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, Ram Prakash Gupta, also decided to halt the film-shoot, shortly before the cameras were due to start rolling.

This was despite the fact that Ms Mehta had already obtained script clearances from the federal Information and Broadcasting ministry and the administration of Uttar Pradesh state.

However, there was an outcry in Varanasi following rumours that the film, set in the 1930s, would depict Hindu widows as being forced into prostitution because of financial hardship.

The protesters are also unhappy at reports that the movie would depict a love affair between a man and woman from different ends of India's caste system.

Ram Kishore Gupta, a spokesman for Suprabhatam, a cultural organisation involved in the protests, said: "The very theme of the movie, a young widow falling in love with a low caste man, is against the basic tradition of our society."

'Absolutely no justification'

But Ms Mehta has attacked the demonstrations and the ban on her production.

"There is absolutely no justification for it," she said.

She said that her film would not denigrate Varanasi and its age-old traditions, but instead would celebrate the "vibrant currents and undercurrents" of the people who live on the banks of the sacred Ganges.


mehta Deepa Mehta: Denies her film denigrates holy city of Vanrnasi
"The movie celebrates the dignity of women. It is about Mahatma Gandhi's belief that women in India should be liberated. I also want to show how women have been subjugated all over the world," she said.

Ms Mehta is one of a small group if Indian directors who have attempted to move the Indian film industry away from the glitz and glamour of traditional Bollywood song and dance love stories, into serious film making.

Her films have explored Indian culture, history and society and they have run into trouble before from conservative organisations in the country.

Her first film in her Elements trilogy, Fire, dealt with modern India's attitude towards women and involved a controversial lesbian love story.

When it was shown in 1998, members of the hardline Hindu nationalist organisation Shiv Senna smashed up a cinema in Delhi and held several protests in major cities.

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See also:
30 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Plug pulled on sacred city film
19 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Filming India's sex secrets
15 Feb 99 |  South Asia
India approves lesbian film
14 Dec 98 |  South Asia
Indian film ignites political controversy
13 Nov 98 |  South Asia
Lesbian film sets India on Fire

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