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Deepa returns to her first love

Subhash K Jha

Deepa Mehta If people thought that a handful of dissenters in Varanasi would crush Deepa Mehta's spirit, they were wrong.

She's back doing what she likes best -- directing.

This time it's in her hometown Toronto, where Rahul Khanna (who starred in her film, 1947 Earth) and model turned actress Lisa Ray are currently shooting for a tragicomic look at non-resident Indian (NRI) life.

"The film is called Bollywood Hollywood," says Deepa over the phone from Toronto, "I wrote it in two months only. I wanted to write and film something that would make me laugh. This seems like just the medicine I need."

The brilliant director had to abandon the last of her elemental trilogy, Water, last year, following protests by radical Hindu groups during the shoot in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. The protesters claimed the film demeaned Indian women.

Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das in Fire The trilogy began with Fire, which had also run into trouble with Hindu nationalist groups that vandalised theatres screening the film, saying that the depiction of a lesbian relationship in a traditional family setting was insulting.

The second in the trilogy was 1947 Earth, which passed without incident.

But the aborted Water project remains Deepa's pet dream, and she is determined to complete it. "The film has to be made with the original cast -- Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Akshay Kumar. But I can't make it anywhere, except in Varanasi," Deepa explains. "I wish those who opposed the shooting realise I'm a victim of political forces."

Talking about Bollywood Hollywood, Deepa says, "Rahul and Lisa are perfect for the roles of NRI's." Besides them, she has cast Moushumi Chatterjee (who had a prominent role in Water) as Khanna's mother. One of Deepa's favourite actors, Kulbhushan Kharbanda (who was in both Fire and 1947 Earth) plays Ray's father.

Nandita Das and Rahul Khanna in 1947 Earth "The film is about the ironies that rule the lives of NRIs, as we're known," reveals Deepa after a gruelling day of shooting. "Though Indians abroad are physically distanced from their homeland, they remain emotionally attached to their country, hence the title Bollywood Hollywood.

"The greatest irony, of course, is that Indian cinema has become increasingly Westernised in tone and appearance," notes the director.

But the film isn't about showbiz. "It's about the dreams and emotions of ordinary NRIs, with lots of beautiful songs composed by Sandeep Chowta," says Deepa.

Interestingly, though the film contains Bollywood-style songs, a professional from Hollywood is doing the choreography.

Bollywood Hollywood, which is being shot in English, went on the floors last week. It is to be wrapped up by mid-November. Deepa hopes to hand over the film to her producers by March 2002. The film's global release shall take place in the summer of 2002.

Deepa Mehta's next project will be a film adaptation of a novel by Alice Walker, of The Colour Purple fame.

Indo-Asian News Service

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