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1. Deepa Mehta’s Fire and Water. Diaspora Writes Back: Nation, Gender and Cultural Brokerage. Reminder: Characters’ names. Fire Jatin, Sita, Radha, Ashok, Mandu, Bibi Water Chuyia, Bua, Madhumati, a widow in her mid-70s, is the house matriarch. Gulabi, a eunuch and pimp

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1 deepa mehta s fire and water

1. Deepa Mehta’s Fire and Water

Diaspora Writes Back: Nation, Gender and Cultural Brokerage

reminder characters names
Reminder: Characters’ names
  • Fire
    • Jatin, Sita, Radha, Ashok, Mandu, Bibi
  • Water
    • Chuyia,
    • Bua,
    • Madhumati, a widow in her mid-70s, is the house matriarch.
    • Gulabi, a eunuch and pimp
    • Shakuntala: good-looking enough, intelligent and educated. Quiet and reserved,
    • Kalyani
    • Narayan
background 1 deepa mehta s central concerns in element trilogy
Background (1) Deepa Mehta’s central concerns in element trilogy
  • Unfair treatments of women in arranged marriage and/or for religious and national causes
    • Fire – sita’s trial of fire and ascetism
    • Earth – partition
    • Water – widow’s positions
  • The local resistances:
    • Fire – ShivSena, one of the most powerful right-wing Hindu fundamentalist groups in India (as well as its leader, Bal Thackeray, who said that the person he hates most in the world is Deepa Mehta (Water Press Kit 5).
    • Water -- organized by the RSS (RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh), another Hindu fundamentalist faction closely aligned with the ShivSena and the cultural arm of the BJP party (Water Press Kit 5-6)
deepa mehta s central concerns in element trilogy
Deepa Mehta’s central concerns in element trilogy
  • Use of child(like) innocence and child violence:
    • Fire – Sita (and the child in Radha’s memory)
    • Earth – Lenny (the witness-narrator), the tearing of Lenny’s doll
    • Water – Chuyia (and Kalyana), the death of the bird Mithu
  • the play of binaries  the use of romance
    • Fire – Ashok vs. Mandu and Jatin
    • Earth – the two lovers of Shenta
    • Water – Narayan vs. the local gentry, Kalyna vs. Madhumati
background 2 hindu widow 3 images
Background (2) Hindu Widow: 3 Images
  • the child widow, the Sati [to express loyalty], and the ascetic widow –to atone for the sins of her husband
  • the legalization of widow remarriage-- passed in an 1865 Act,
  • the 1929 Child Marriage Prevention Act. “However, these laws did not end the widows’ oppression” (ShohiniChaudhuri 11).
  • Today’s society
    • Number: (in 1991) 33 million widows, 55 per cent of all women over 60 are widowed, and a shocking 30,000 are under 15.
    • Only 5 per cent live with their parents, 40 per cent with adult sons (many of whom are actually dependent on their mothers) and, most surprisingly, over 50 per cent live in what Chen calls "female households“ [or ashrams (institutions) ] (source)
background 3 critical issue 1 lesbianism or queering
Background (3)critical Issue 1: Lesbianism or queering?
  • “This essay interrogates the various transnational, diasporic, and national

discourses surrounding Deepa Mehta’s Fire, with specific attention to how normativities and identities are mobilized with the circulation of the film.” (Jigna Desai 65)

the west s responses to fire
The West’s responses to fire

The reception and circulation in the United States and Canada, where most responses indicated an inability

  • (1) to locate the film as part of a national cinema (it was not seen as Canadian),
  • (2) to understand its gender and sexual politics as contemporaneous (Fire was deemed protofeminist and pregay), or
  • (3) to identify its aesthetics and genre (it was read as a melodrama or even a soap opera). (68)
shiv sena s response
ShivSena’s response
  • While the Shiv Sena clearly saw Fire as a lesbian film, the positioning of the film as “lesbian” raises several issues. First, the naming of “lesbian” as a Western category emerges in the Shiv Sena’s attempts to claim cultural specificity of the term, but does so in denying any history of heterosexuality or same-sex desire in India. (74)
mehta s
  • Her statements varied from naming Fire a lesbian film, to claiming it is about women’s choices, to suggesting that lesbians were hijacking the film. (79)
issue 2 exoticism or not a the imperial gaze
Issue 2: Exoticism or not a. the Imperial Gaze
  • Exoticism (the focus on exotic places -- rural or poor areas; ritual and women)
  • Theory: Mary Louise Pratt’s notion of the ‘Imperial Eye/I’ in travel writing – is a panoptic gaze that lays claim to everything it sees, typically surveying an exotic landscape from above, its cornucopia of riches worthy of conquest. This practice of vision as will-to-power has been traced through ethnographic photography and film to present-day popular media such as National Geographic. Its tendencies include objectifying non-Western people and societies and reducing them to visual spectacle, exotic difference and local colour, idealizing them against a timeless backdrop (Lutz and Collins 89).
deepa mehta s against exoticism
Deepamehta’s against exoticism
  • In a 1997 interview --
  • “It was important to set it [the films] in India because the story is happening there. It is a microcosm of India, the challenging of traditions. I seriously wanted to break the stereotypes of India, the ‘exotic’ India of the Raj and the princes and the mysticism. Exotic India doesn’t really exist” (Mehta qtd in Parameswaran17)
deepa mehta s india
Deepa Mehta’s India
  • Concrete individuals presented in the plots of romance
  • The use of rituals, religious elements and legends:
    • Fire – Sita in Ramayana (羅摩耶那史詩), Karva Chauth (fasting)
    • Earth – marriage ritual,
    • Water –marriage and funeral rituals, Krishna
the screen as the others
The screen as the others
  • “ Lacan provides a critique of the system of perspective, suggesting that the subject/painter never has mastery over the visual field nor transparent access to the object, which is always mediated. In addition, the viewer does not, in fact, look from a privileged, exterior vantage point, distant from what he/she sees, but is immanent to the domain of spectacle – in effect, part of the picture. Further, Lacan de-anthropomorphises the gaze, which for him, rather than being possessed by individuals who look, represents the presence of others –highlighting our dependency on others for our social meaning.
  • .. ways of seeing are framed by sets of expectations to be fulfilled. But Silverman also suggests that the look of an individual can see something other than what the gaze sees and change what it ‘photographs’ – in other words, a filmmaker like Mehta does have an agency in bringing about a larger transformation in how we, collectively, see.(12)
  • “exoticisation is a common aesthetic strategy in world cinema and needs to be addressed without the customary moral condemnation implied in both popular reactions and academic studies that favour more experimental works. …
  • I attempt to shift the terms of the debate by deconstructing the binary notion of the ‘the Western gaze’ and mobilise a more fluid set of perspectives – the invocation of different regimes of sensuous knowledge and the cross-cultural adaptation of melodrama – to illuminate Water’s aesthetic choices, export success, and interpretation of gender power dynamics.” (Shohini Chaudhuri 8)
fire starting questions
Fire: starting questions
  • Are Sita and Radha lesbians? How does their relationship develop, opposed to how they are related to their husbands?
  • What are the main messages conveyed in opposing Sita/Radha on the one hand, and Jatin/Ashot on the other?
  • What role does Julie play?
  • How about the grandmother?
  • What are the symbolic meanings of fire? And the three inserted images of Radha’s childhood? (e.g. 37: 10)
radha and sita
Radha and sita
  • Caring for each other – talking and expressing sympathy, giving water, bangle, hair-oiling, massaging
the men
The men:
  • Ashok: needs help like a child
  • Jatin: likes the hard-to-get
  • Mandu:self-satisfying and hypocritical
water starting questions
Water: starting questions
  • How are the widow presented? Are they just pathetic?
  • Why does Kalyani have to die? Does Chuyia go to Narayan’s house?
  • How roles does Shakuntala play in relation to Kalyani and Chuyia?
  • What are the symbolic meanings of water and river?
  • What do you think about the ending, in comparison with that of Fire?
chuyia s subversion
Chuyia’s subversion
  • Asking about man widow’s house
  • Running around
  • Stepping on the woman’s back
  • Desai, Jigna. Homo on the range: Mobile and global sexualities. Social Text 20.4(2002), 65-89.
  • “Snake Charmers and Child Brides: Deepa Mehta's Water, 'Exotic'. Representation, and the Cross-cultural Spectatorship of South Asian Migrant Cinema,” South. Asian Popular Culture 7, no. 1 (April 2009): 7-20.
  • Women of a Lesser World http://www.india-today.com/itoday/20001127/books1.shtml