This thesis examines Deepa Mehta’s trilogy—Water, Earth, Fire—and the trilogy’s exploration and contestation of colonial, anti-colonial nationalist, and religious ideologies as intersecting with patriarchal norms to enact symbolic and actual violence on the bodies of women. I argue that Mehta’s trilogy foregrounds the ways in which patriarchal nationalism legitimizes violence against women’s bodies and sexualities through different social and cultural practices and discourses which are interconnected. To explain the historical and contemporary contexts of Indian women’s domination and the ways they resist this domination, Mehta’s films unveil the underlying power relations among social forces such as colonialism, anti-colonial reform movements, post-colonial nationalism, religious and patriarchal heteronormative discourses which make women’s domination an acceptable cultural norm. Through an analysis of the experiences of women portrayed in Mehta’s films, I posit that the constructions of the Indian nation, in terms of national culture, tradition and identity, are gendered in specific ways that construct the Indian woman, both symbolically and physically, as a site where nationalist ideology provokes their political liberation, self-representation and agency. Mehta’s films disrupt these historical and contemporary practices, discourses and norms through the depictions of women’s multiple identities, experiences and sexualities. Her works demonstrate the ways in which women constantly resist, contest and negotiate with this domination and violence through their daily activities and narratives. Introduction: Deepa Mehta’s Trilogy
Indo-Canadian film director Deepa Mehta was born in 1950 in Amritsar, a border city between India and Pakistan located in India (Banning and Levitin 274, Monk 201). Mehta’s father, who was a film distributor, was forced to relocate to Amritsar from Lahore because of the violence of the partition of India in 1947. Growing within a filmic environment, Mehta was already involved with documentary filmmaking when she completed her master’s degree in Philosophy at Delhi University.When Mehta was considering pursuing a PhD, she was invited to work with a production company to make documentaries for the Indian government (Banning and Levitin 274). While working in this company, Mehta learned various film techniques such as editing, sound, camera work, and narrative development, and she made her first documentary film on a child bride. During her filming on another documentary, Mehta met with Paul Saltzman who was making a documentary on the High Commissioner of India at that time. Mehta moved to Canada in 1973 after marrying Saltzman and formed a production company, Sunrise Films with her brother photojournalist Dilip Mehta and Saltzman (Banning and Levitin 274 and Monk 201). At Sunrise, Mehta directed, produced, and edited for television, including the series Danger Bay. In 1985, Mehta made a documentary on her brother photojournalist Dilip Mehta entitled Travelling Light: The Photojournalism of Dilip Mehta which gained international acclaim at the 1987 New York International Film and Television Festival. At this time, Mehta also won Best Feature Film Award at the 11th International Women’s Film Festival in Italy for a television feature Martha, Ruth & Edie. But Mehta earned her first success as a feature film debut when she filmed Sam & Me in 1991. Sam & Me is a story of a young Indian boy who arrives in Canada with hopes and expectations but becomes frustrated when he can work only as a caretaker of an elderly father of 1his uncle’s employer. According to Jacqueline Levitin, “[m]ore than a tale of a young Indian abroad, the film is an indictment of a country that is multicultural in name only. Coming from a comfortable family background, Mehta had been shocked in Canada to find herself viewed as a brown-skinned ‘other’” (282). After Sam & Me’ s success, Mehta worked on episodes of George...
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