Skip to main content

Meet the Filmmakers: Dilip Mehta--'The Forgotten Woman'

By Tom White

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 filmmaking?

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" moment?

IDA: 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.

What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

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.

IDA: 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 man.

IDA: 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..

To view the DocuWeek schedule in New York City, visit

To purchase tickets to DocuWeek at the Village East Cinema, visit

To view the DocuWeek schedule in Los Angeles, visit

To purchase tickets to DocuWeek at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks, visit