Meet the Filmmakers: Dilip Mehta--'The Forgotten Woman'
Over the next few weeks, we at IDA
will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work will be
represented in the DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, August 8-14 in New York City and August 22-28 in Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share
the stories behind their films-the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles,
the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Dilip Mehta, director of The Forgotten Woman.
Synopsis: Following the international success of the
Oscar-nominated film Water, (directed
by Dilip Mehta's sister, Deepa), the filmmakers received thousands of letters
from audience members wanting to know more. The
Forgotten Woman brings the understanding of the destitution and
marginalization of millions of widows who are forced by age-old traditions to
live out their remaining years isolated and shunned by society. In the 21st
century, many issues still surround women's search for economic independence in
order to attain a modicum of self-sufficiency and basic human dignity.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary
Dilip Mehta: There
was no grand plan, no planned career move. I had a 32-year background in
photojournalism, so it was almost a natural progression to embrace documentary
filmmaking. Of late I had begun feeling constrained by the "still frame." I
felt, for instance, that with the absence of continuity and sound, an integral
part of the story was not being conveyed in my photographs. Also, one
significant question remained unanswered: What was happening beyond the "frozen"
What inspired you to make The Forgotten Woman?
DM: The feature film Water, directed and scripted by my sister, Deepa Mehta. The film's
depiction of indifference to Indian widows in the guise of religion and
tradition made one stop and hold up a mirror to social values.
The motivation to make The Forgotten
Woman, on the other hand, came from anger.
IDA: What were some of
the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome
DM: My sense
of shame and guilt were the only challenges and obstacles. To be one in a
country of many who have permitted the marginalization of millions is not
noteworthy. The widows were generous. They shared their lives with us. It's
ironic that those who have the least give the most. In pre-dawn Varanasi, to let me continue filming on the banks of the
river Ganga, a greedy policeman wanted (and
received) a bribe-but then he was only making a living.
IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the
pre-production, production and post-production processes?
DM: The vision neither
changed nor faltered at any given stage. On numerous occasions I felt that I
didn't have the strength within me to continue recording what I was seeing and
hearing, but, with the support of 20 million forgotten widows (metaphorically
speaking) and three enlightened producers, I was always emboldened to
depict the tragedy of the lives of the many widows with integrity.
As you've screened The Forgotten Woman-whether on the festival circuit, or in
screening rooms, or in living rooms-how have audiences reacted to the film? What
has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?
DM: The reaction of audiences has invariably been one
of silence, followed by awkwardness and then disbelief that even in the 21st century,
people permit people to treat people in the manner shown in the documentary.
I have always been surprised by the warmth and compassion of audiences. Viewers-mostly
strangers, of all ages, of all colors and races-want to know how they can
contribute (not necessarily financially) to alleviate the suffering of their fellow
What docs or docmakers have served as
inspirations for you?
DM: My heroes, and those who inspire me, are those who make an
indelible mark in my heart.
The Forgotten Woman will
be screening at the Village East Cinema in New York
and the Arclight Theater in Sherman Oaks, Calif..
the DocuWeek schedule in New York City,
purchase tickets to DocuWeek at the Village East Cinema, visit www.villageeastcinema.com.
the DocuWeek schedule in Los Angeles,
purchase tickets to DocuWeek at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks, visit www.arclightcinemas.com.