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Text by Hina Oomer-Ahmed
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

The making of Deepa Mehta's controversial film, Water, proves to be a turning point in her relationship with her once estranged daughter and newly minted author, Devyani Saltzman. HINA OOMER-AHMED meets the mother and daughter duo in New York and discovers much trust and new bonding

Nobody could have missed the immense look of pride on filmmaker Deepa Mehta's face as she sat in the audience for a book reading in New York City. The author was Deepa's daughter, Devyani Saltzman, reading from her recently published memoir, Shooting Water. It has been a long and arduous road for Deepa and Devyani. The resurrection and filming of Water was not just a realisation of the filmmaker's dream but also a new beginning for the relationship between mother and daughter.

Devyani's parents divorced when she was 11 years old. She recalls being asked to choose which of her parents she would rather live with. At that point she opted to live with her father, Canadian filmmaker Paul Saltzman, a decision that seems to have haunted the mother-daughter relationship ever since. Devyani recalls growing up with a constant 'weight' she felt burdened by, a deep mix of hurt and guilt that stifled her. In her courageous memoir she traces the filming of Water - the trauma and the tears that went into a film that created waves the world over.

Chatting with Deepa and Devyani didn't feel any different from any mother daughter interaction. The conversation had some emotional moments, lots of casual banter punctuated with laughter. The two seemed to have left their problems way behind, cruising ahead with a newfound understanding and mutual admiration for each other. It seemed like the 'weight' had finally disseminated leaving them to just revel in their affections for one another.

It all began in 1999, when Devyani was 19 and Deepa invited her to Benares to work as a third assistant camera person for the last part of her trilogy and most controversial film yet. Water explores the fate of Hindu widows in colonial India and is the story of an eight-year-old girl, Chuyia, a widow herself, who stirs the others to question the life of penitence and poverty imposed by society on them. Both Deepa and Devyani saw this as an ideal opportunity to spend time together and mend their strained relationship. However, the shooting of Water was cut short by Hindu fundamentalists who destroyed the movie sets, burnt an effigy of the director and threatened her life if she did not shut down production. Deepa and her crew were finally forced to stop the filming. After three years of coming to terms with the anger and hurt, Deepa restarted the project that had become an even more intense creative obsession. Water was reborn in Sri Lanka under a decoy production title and became Deepa and Devyani's second chance to heal their open wounds.