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The Problems with Deepa Mehta’s Water

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Deepa Mehta’s controversial film Water is coming to the Majestic Cinema (Colombo, Sri Lanka) from the 2nd of June onwards. I am yet to see it, but from all I have read and heard, she is a very good filmmaker. I have an extra interest as, due to the problems Mehta faced in India, she had to do most of her work here in Sri Lanka, using the Bolgoda lake as a stand-in for the River Ganges.

But I have two problems with Mehta with regard to Water.

A Sri Lankan girl from Galle plays one of the lead roles in this film. This girl’s performance has been appreciated and applauded by all who have seen the film. But Mehta has not given this girl the respect she deserves. She is referred to and credited simply as “Sarala”. Sarala who? That is my question. Why couldn’t Mehta introduce this girl with her last name?

I think Sarala has been used by Mehta. The girl could not speak English, so I’m guessing that neither she nor her parents had a say in how she was credited by Mehta. Thus, she remains as Sarala, the child actress.

And also note that another such “child actress”, Ayesha Kapoor, who acted in Sanjay Leela Bansali’s Black won a Filmfare Award for best supporting actress. Therefore, the lack of attention paid to Sarala has perhaps destroyed her chances at a good career.

The other problem I have with Mehta is that she hasn’t credited Errol Kelly, the Sri Lankan production designer and art director who was responsible for the construction of the sets and overall production design for Water . Instead, Mehta’s brother Dilip has been credited; he may be an acclaimed photographer who got a Time cover when he was 24 (he’s in his 50s now), but he is no art director.

It was Kelly who was responsible for building a replica of the ghats and Hindu temples, but once again, Mehta has avoided giving deserved credit for Sri Lankan talent.

Kelly has worked on numerous Hollywood projects like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Mother Teresa, Jungle Book and The Iron Triangle. In all these films he has been credited as “art director — Sri Lanka.”

Therefore, isn’t it ironic that while the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have credited him, an Indian does not have the decency to at least mention Kelly’s name?

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  • If the young actress and her family have not complained about the manner in which she is credited for her role in Water, perhaps her name was listed that way by design. Many actors choose to have themselves billed under a certain name only to turn around and have themselves billed differently on the next project.

    Without knowing all the details or hearing from the various people you’ve listed, it’s rather difficult to discern if this was intentional or not.

  • there are numerous legitimate reasons for the “problems” you have w/ the film, but you seem to have done little to no research to determine the cause of them.

    yet, you write an article bemoaning their existence. not only is this irresponsible, but also potentially damaging to the film itself, for it creates controversy where there likely is none.

    perhaps Kelly isn’t credited for union reasons or declined a credit, but you have no idea, so instead you smear the actions and intentions of a filmmaker. next time, please check things out before you start throwing around blame

  • I did my researh. Errol Kelly has spoken to Deepa Mehta about this but there has been no action taken so far. Try this link tosouthasianmedia.net
    I hope this will make you stop criticizing me without doing YOUR home work

  • then you should have put that in your original article.

    the link doesn’t work, by the way.

    i wasn’t saying you were wrong. i was just saying it was unwise to make statements without presenting any evidence. that’s how crazy controversies get started.

  • If you clicked the links I included you’d have seen evidence. And there already is a controversy about this so I was not starting anything. I was giving my opinion on it and you can interprete it in any way you want. We are both entitled to our opinions and if you noticed, I have included it under Opinion.

    Below is what was in that link. I’m sorry that it didn’t work.

    Lankan talent washed away by ‘Water’

    Friday, May 26,2006

    COLOMBO: In a pathetic revelation where outstanding talent of a Sri Lankan film art director in the world famous film ‘Water’ had not been identified, was revealed at a media conference held at the National Film Corporation.Well-known local art director and set designer, Errol Kelly who designed the massive set besides the Bolgoda, recreating a setting of a Benares village by the river Ganga for the controversial Indian film ‘Water’ had not being mentioned in the film cast.

    “Instead of Kelly, director Deepa Mehta’s brother’s name was attributed in the film cast,” film distributor Chandran Rutnam told the media yesterday.

    When questioned by journalists Mr. Ratnam, who is also chairman of Film Location Services, admitted that an injustice was caused to Mr. Kelly and that he was going to raise it up with the relevant authorities. “I am going to bring this to the notice of filmmaker Deepa Mehta,” Mr. Rutnam stated.

    In 2000, when Deepa Mehta started shooting the film, which revolves round widows forced to live in penitence, Hindu fundamentalists in India had attacked and burnt the sets of the film. The alleged fundamentalist faction also had issued death threats against the director and some of its main cast. Five years later, the director had come to Sri Lanka and secretly shot the film under a pseudo title. In order to recreate 1938 India, local art director Errol Kelly had been sent to Benares in India, after which he built the Ghats on the river Ganges on the Bolgoda Lake, which was half a mile in length.

    “But instead of Mr. Kelly, the brother of the filmmaker who came to the location at the last moment, but not as an art director but a still photographer, was given the title of art director,” Mr. Rutnam complained.

    Journalists yesterday asked as to who would be awarded if an award was given to the film’s art direction. The film had already won three awards at the Toronto film festival. Among earlier internationally acclaimed art direction and designing, Errol Kelly had the distinction of being the Art Director for the world renowned Hollywood director Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and production designed several Hollywood films such as “Jungle Book II”, “Tennesse Buck” and “Iron Triangle”.

  • Sandhya

    A lot of people from South India and Sri Lanka do have surnames in the sense that we know them. Often a girl’s name is suffixed with her father’s first name, (and usually prefixed with her father’s village) thereby commonly mistaking it as a “surname” which it really isn’t.

  • Bahen C

    Single name for child actors is not uncommon in India. So not putting Sarala’s last name is probably not disrespectful. Actually it is better not to put the last name, which comes from the father and is patriarchal in my opinion.

    But credit should be awarded where it is due. Mrs Mehta also should have credited Sri Lankan Govt and Sri Lankan people for their hospitality.

  • If you want to know more about Sarala (Chuiya). Heres a link