Varanasi, Feb 5: Filmmaker Deepa Mehta today began indoor shooting of her controversial movie, Water, on the plight of widows in this pilgrim city, even as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Ashok Singhal threatened to disrupt its filming even at the cost of his life.
Mehta took the first close up shots of eight-year-old Urvi, who plays the lead role of a child widow, at the Clarks Towers Hotel, where the film unit is lodged, Deepa’s brother Dilip Mehta told PTI.
The shooting commenced after Mehta, along with Dilip and scriptwriter Anurag Kashyap of Shool and Satya fame, held night-long parleys with senior religious leaders of the city, including Mahant Veerbadra Misra of the famous Sankat Mochan temple and Shivji Upadhyay of Kashi Vidwat Parishad.
Uttar Pradesh Home Secretary V K Mittal told reporters in Lucknow that the shooting began after Mehta showed the script of the film to the Mahant. “The shooting at the Assi Ghat, the outdoor location of the film, has, however not yet started," headded.
However, Singhal remained adamant, saying the shooting would proceed only over his `dead body’ and that if the people of Kashi “decide not to allow the shooting here, it will not be allowed anywhere in the country”.
As Mehta began the filming two days after Information and Broadcasting Ministry approved her revised script, scores of Bajrang Dal activists staged a demonstration outside the hotel and burnt her effigy. They later courted arrest.
The talks were held at the initiative of the district magistrate Alok Kumar in an effort to take the people of Varanasi into confidence.
District administration has beefed up security for the film crew and deployed rapid action force and provincial armed constabulary at key shooting locations, including Tulsi Ghat.
Singhal, who arrived here today, threatened `more violent protests’ against the film.
Stating that his fight was not against the government, he alleged the film was part of a conspiracy by a US-based church group.
Claiming that Mehta hadtaken only a rehearsal shot and not done actual shooting, Kaushal Kishore Mishra, spokesman of Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Sangarsh Samiti, spearheading the stir against the film, dared the film crew to do outdoor shooting.
Alleging the district magistrate was hand in gloves with Mehta, Mishra said the samiti will call for a Varanasi bandh on Monday.
In a related development, Kashi Vidwat Parishad, a forum of religious leaders and scholars, today distanced itself from the controversy. Parishad spokesman Shivji Upadhyay, who met Mehta yesterday, told PTI that the forum was neither in favour of nor against the film’s shooting.
The Sangh Parivar outfits said earlier that they would abide by any decision taken by the Vidwat Parishad. Congress workers also staged a demonstration in support of Mehta and burnt an effigy of Singhal at Assi crossing.
RSS not responsible for protests: Mehta
Deepa Mehta has said the RSS is not behind the protests against her controversial film and that theagitators are "misguided and misinformed people."
In an interview to Janata ki Adalat programme on Star TV, she said RSS leader K S Sudershan has assured her that his organisation is not behind the agitation in Varanasi where the film is to be shot, according to a release from the network.
"What I was told in the papers was they (protesters) were supported by the RSS. I went to meet the RSS leader to find out if its true that you are behind this. Sudershan gave me his assurance that they are not behind this," she said. Mehta said the protesters were "really misguided, misinformed people" who called themselves Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Samiti.