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Choppy water ebbs with chhoti bahu

Three winters ago, swept away by the choppy waters of Varanasi, she could well have surfaced on the Calcutta riverfront, thanks to the helping hand extended — from a distance — to her film project by the Bengal government. But Deepa Mehta didn’t and Water has remained her pipe dream.

Next summer, Mehta will finally be here, not for a riverside story, but for a return to the Bengali zamindari roots. The film-maker made matters official on Wednesday — the big-screen remake of Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, to be produced by Pritish Nandy Communications, is what she will be working on. And she is quite looking forward to camping in Calcutta, probably during the rains of 2004.

“I am very excited about coming to one of my favourite places to start filming, hopefully in July next year,” said Mehta, in town for the silver jubilee celebrations of NGO Sasha.

After Europe, America and India, Hollywood and Bollywood, this will be her first foray in the city that had all but rolled out a red carpet for the film-maker running for cover from violent opposition to her widows’ tale and denied shooting rights by the Uttar Pradesh government.

Mehta insists that much water has flown down the Ganga — or Hooghly — since then. “I am a film-maker, not a politician. I don’t want to get into controversies. I would like to finish Water, because it is my project and has a good script, but only under the right circumstances. I don’t even think about it anymore.”

Two comedies later — “I don’t like being labelled” — she’s back to drama — “serious themes are a part of me”. Bollywood Hollywood was “great fun” because it was “an insane film”, and The Republic of Love, a romantic comedy set in Paris and Toronto, starring Bruce Greenwood and Emilia Fox, due to be released in February next year, was “a wonderful experience”.

But after six months spent travelling between continents — “I always seem to be on a plane” — she’s looking forward to being grounded for a while. And that, too, with Bimal Mitra’s tale of a Bengali zamindar family — immortalised on screen by Meena Kumari’s ‘chhoti bahu’ — which will be her chance to “walk around Calcutta and eat phuchkas”.

For the film-maker, everything, from the phuchkas to the pollution, lends a unique character to a city that she keeps coming back to and is glad about finally being able to work in.

Mehta is tight-lipped about the role players in tomorrow’s Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, that has already picked up a fair share of controversy — from cast confusion (Salman in, Salman out; Aishwarya yes, Aishwarya maybe) to maker muddle (exit Rituparno, enter Deepa).

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