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Book Review: Shooting Water: A Memoir

Judi ( Simran ) Silva


Review: Shooting Water: A Memoir of Second Chances, Family, and Filmmaking
By Devyani Saltzman (Author) Deepa Mehta (Afterword)

Seeing the film Water touched me very deeply. It is a truly beautiful work of art, which we hope will be able to be seen among its own people of India someday.

The title of this memoir made me wonder what more the story would reveal, other than what the film itself and the various news reports at the time of its shooting depicted. Having only a slight idea of what lay ahead of me, it was a journey behind the scenes which this reader is glad she took.

It is one thing to read a work of fiction about relationships, trials, journeys and so forth. Yet, when these events are told through the eyes of someone who has actually lived them, it is certainly a different matter altogether. Reading Devyani's story made me rethink past experiences of my life and reconcile some things which have haunted me for a long time.

One notices right from the outset that it is unusual for someone at the tender age of 26 to be writing a memoir. But with the author's many experiences, trials and the maturity to reflect inwardly on them, it lent her the ability to pen her personal narrative to a superlative degree.

As the title indicates, Shooting Water tells the story of second chances, family and filmmaking. But second chances for what? Interestingly, the chances had a dual fulfillment, for the simple fact that the struggles associated with the making of the film paralleled quite ironically with the struggles Devyani and Deepa weathered in their relationship with each other. They labor to heal the wounds inflicted on each of them resulting from Deepa's divorce and Devyani's subsequent choice to live with her father rather than Deepa, when she was just eleven years old. Having a Jewish father and a Hindu mother, leaves poor Devyani embroiled in a culture clash between the two. The only common thread she finds in both of them is filmmaking. It is this unique "culture" that eventually brings Devyani and Deepa together.

Attempting to mend the broken bridges when Devyani was just nineteen years old, Deepa invites her to join her film crew in Benares, India. There Devyani would work as a third cameraperson on her mother's new film Water, which tells about the fate of Hindu widows in 1938 colonial India. Neither of them have any idea at that point in time what battles would soon ensue and engulf not only them but all those involved with the making of the film.

Water, Deepa, Devyani, the cast and crew soon became targets of a controversy which led to violent and religious protests against them. Filming was completely shut down by members of the government and the healing process that had just begun between mother and daughter was put on hold until years later.

Journeying back into the overwhelming feeling of displacement that Devyani speaks about throughout the book, a short-lived romance with a handsome crew member, only compounds the issues at hand and her life back at the university suffers.

Following Devyani into womanhood, she openly and sincerely discusses her inner demons and how she desperately tries to make sense out of her life which is reeling out of control. It wasn't until she rejoined her mother, cast and crew in Sri Lanka five years later that their emotional repair work along with the reworking of the film could begin once again. The results were successful and heartwarming on both fronts.  Deepa says it better than I could when she describes them. "The rebirth of Water coincided happily with the rebirth of my relationship with Devyani."

My sincere congratulations to Devyani (love her name) for an amazing, emotional, heartwarming, informative and excellently written journal on her experiences of the shooting of Water, her coming of age and the sweet reunion with her mother Deepa. It was a book this reader could not put down until every last page was finished (at 2 am.).


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