2016-06-30
The Uttar Pradesh government shut down the filming of Deepa Mehta's latest film, 'Water,' after protesters turned violent on February 6, tearing down portions of the movie set as it was being filmed in Varanasi. In an interview, the BJP's Shyamdeo Ramchaudhary explains why Hindus might find the movie's depiction of Varanasi--also called Kashi--offensive.

Reprinted with permission from Rediff.com.

When irate mobs decided to take the law, and Water's film-sets, into their own hands, leading the brigade was the BJP legislator Shyamdeo Ramchaudhary. Never mind that the government headed by his party had cleared the script, never mind the impact such 'spontaneous' protests will have on the image of the nation. Ramchaudhary's demand, made clear to Suparn Verma, is: Make the script public if you have nothing to hide.

REDIFF: What is your objection to Water being shot in Varanasi?

RAMCHAUDHARY: A lot is being said about the film, whose script is under dispute. I want to say this, that there are certain norms and cultural ways of Kashi and they must be shot, we have no objections to them being shot either. When the complete image is being portrayed, we have no problem. But when you narrow your view down to some issues that may have existed years ago, issues which were stray [incidents], it is not a good thing to show them.

From what we have heard and what we have been told, the script has not been disclosed to everyone. Maybe because the people will have objections to it. Hence the entire populace here is of one mind, that in Kashi there may have been some incidents long ago, but today Kashi is known everywhere as a holy land, Gautama Buddha gave his first discourse here, this is the workplace of Saint Tulsidas, Saint Kabir, it's famous for Benarasi saris, it is famous for the Ganges, the ghats. It is a historical place. It is not known as a place where child widows used to come and live in ashrams, where they would sell their bodies or would be forced to sell their bodies. We have never heard of it, it is not even documented in the history of Kashi, so how can you tarnish the image of a city without reason?

There may have been stray incidents but that is not part of our culture or something that is a practice here. I protest against the picturisation of Varanasi the way it being picturised in the film, it is an insult and shows utter disregard of our tradition and we will never tolerate it. No one can come to Kashi and insult our sensibilities by shooting negative stories, show them to the West and portray the wrong signals.

We also understand that the director of this film, Deepa Mehta, has always been a very disputed and controversial filmmaker. Some time back she made Fire, there was no Sita or Geeta ever in the film. Ismat Chugtai who wrote it, never had a Sita or Geeta, so why couldn't she shoot that film in Lahore, why did she have to come to Delhi to shoot it? And the names of the characters insulted our religious sensibilities by calling them Sita and Geeta and then she wins awards and makes money!

REDIFF: It was Radha and Sita and the film Earth was shot in Delhi, not Lahore, and Bapsi Sidhwa wrote the novel on which Earth was based, also wrote Fire.

RAMCHAUDHARY: Whoever it may be, she couldn't shoot there and that is why she ran away and then she comes to shoot in our India and insults our culture. The homosexual encounter she showed in the film, I have not seen the film, but that is not part of our culture, nor does it exist in our lives! It doesn't even happen in India, it is only rumoured that it exists except maybe for stray incidents. So if someone wants to show all this and insult India, we can't give permission to this nor can we appreciate it.

REDIFF: But your own BJP government cleared the film after reading the entire script. Don't you trust your own government?

RAMCHAUDHARY: I have full trust in my government but they may have seen something else and passed it. Assume this, the story has it that someone gets married and he goes on his honeymoon. Now no one will object to this, but if you fill the honeymoon, if you show wrong scenes, then it is definitely objectionable, and the people who must have read it at that point must not have read it in such depth. They may not have realised how the cultural image of Varanasi is getting affected, but now that we are protesting, they will have to think again.

REDIFF: Are our religion and culture so weak that a film can shake it up?

RAMCHAUDHARY: It is not weak, it is very old and very tolerant, but in the name of tolerance we can't let anyone do whatever he wants.

REDIFF: So you state that there has been no incident of widows being exploited from 1930 till [today]?

RAMCHAUDHARY: See, like I said before, widows are revered in our society. Every family must have suffered a loss in the family, but to show that child widows come here to sell their bodies, to show that ashrams were created to exploit widows -- that is what we object to. This is not our culture.

REDIFF: The film doesn't show that. As to the aspect you talk about, only one girl has such a problem in the movie, the other widows are unaffected.

RAMCHAUDHARY: It maybe only one girl but the story has been made on Kashi and Kashi has been represented in such a way that in that period the widows or child widows who came here were prostituted. People come to Kashi to attain nirvana, to learn the Vedas and evolve as human beings. Another film is also being shot here and no one has anyone objection to that.

REDIFF: But do you approve using violence and destroying the sets?

RAMCHAUDHARY: As far as breaking the sets is concerned, when there is a mass movement people cannot control their sentiments.

REDIFF: So what do you plan to do now?

RAMCHAUDHARY: Now we are informing the public about this and trying to get the people involved and raise their support -- slowly stoking the fire, so to say. Telling everyone that this lady called Deepa Mehta has always tarnished India's image and portrayed our culture and religion wrongly to the West. The Ganges is the most revered place for us, to call it Water is so insulting! Calling it plain Water!

REDIFF: Mahashweta Devi wrote a novel which was made into a movie starring Dilip Kumar, called Sungharsh. It was shot in Varanasi and the story was about ghat thugs. The move was seen, and forgotten. So why does Water scare you?

RAMCHAUDHARY: Passing that was a mistake, but we won't allow the mistake to be repeated.

REDIFF: You haven't even seen the script, how can you have so many objections without knowing what the movie is about?

RAMCHAUDHARY: We asked them to make the script public and show it to everyone! We are telling you, people have a problem with it, so if your intentions are honourable then make the script public.

REDIFF: No writer, no painter or poet or artist makes his idea public until it is complete, so why should this be any different?

RAMCHAUDHARY: You are right, but we all know that a book is read by very few people, but when a movie is made, a wrong message and a good message makes all the difference, minds are affected by this message and films are seen by millions of people. I'm sad that you know more about the script than us, but the common man of Kashi doesn't know so much!

REDIFF: So if you read the script you will quieten down?

RAMCHAUDHARY: My anger or irritation will come down, that is not the point, we have always said read us the script first and clear our doubts.

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