Review: Shooting Water
Author: Devyani Saltzman
Publisher: Penguin India
Price: Rs 295/-
Shooting Water is an emotional, even turbulent ride. Sure, you'll probably start it with some amount of scepticism. I know I did - this is after all, a book written by the daughter of a huge director, Deepa Mehta. How could it not be overshadowed by the famous mother?
But it's not Deepa Mehta's book, it's Devyani Saltzman's. And she's so unbelievably open about her feelings and her vulnerabilities, not to mention the journey she embarked upon with her mother, after agreeing to work with her on a film, that it's hard not to be impressed.
Saltzman talks of all kinds of things. Like being asked to choose who to live with when her parents split up when she was 11, and how that choice essentially cast a shadow on the whole family. She chose to live with her Canadian father, explaining that somehow it was safer, she felt safer. But the reverberations of that choice haunt them all, even years later.
As a 19-year-old, Saltzman joins her mother as third assistant cameraperson on the film Water. Of course, we all remember, the film was pretty violently shut down, just as they started shooting in Benares. She falls in love, the guy has a girlfriend, it's all rather heart-breaking, but that's first love for you, as she points out.
What truly makes the book stand out, in my opinion, is the clarity of narrative voice and the human-ness of emotions...She doesn't look like she's hiding anything, even when it "exposes" her. She writes frankly of an overwhelming need for her mother's approval, that "old feeling", the need for validation, even having a breakdown while at Oxford University.
But it's not all guts and gore...She takes on the Hindu right, quoting Pavan Varma's "All nations indulge in forms of myth-making". Saltzmann feels that the film Water was one of the casualties of that. She's not wary of censorship so much as public censorship, or rather, public "pre-censorship".
She feels the controversy over Water had much more to do with Mehta's previous film Fire, than anything else. After all, the story of Water is not some radical revolutionary tale...it's a story of 4 widows in an ashram trying to survive, essentially a love story. Not quite what you would expect the government to get in a twist about. Except it didn't quite fit in with the whole India Shining image.
The film is eventually made in Colombo, four years later. This time, Saltzman is a stills photographer...she's over her first love, and things are looking up. It's also a moment of closure. "When Water finished shooting in Colombo, it was beautiful...we could move on," she says in an interview. A chapter closed and there is remarkably, no bitterness.
It's a rather beautiful story, of life and love, with a political undercurrent, and enchantingly written, too. The 26-year-old has no intentions of resting on her laurels. She regularly writes feature articles for Canadian and Indian publications, favouring social issues, and is already at work on her next book. The pressure of living up to her parents is not something she struggles with, she says, but in many ways, she's feeling the heat now - having emerged as a creative force. Here's to raising the bar.
More about Amrita Tripathi
Amrita Tripathi is a news anchor with CNN-IBN, and also doubles up as Health and Books Editor. An MA in Philosophy from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, she has also taught a few undergraduate classes at her alma mater, informally! When she is not tracking health issues, Amrita is busy chasing the literary dream. Her debut novel Broken News was published in 2010. Before joining CNN-IBN, Amrita worked with The Indian Express.
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