Famous moviemaker’s daughter helps out on troubled film shoot and struggles to find herself.
Saltzman grew up torn between her parents’ worlds. Her Indian mother, the writer/director/producer Deepa Mehta, moved to Canada as a young woman and married a Jewish man, with whom she had Devyani. Eleven years old when they divorced, the author chose to go with her more affectionate father, a decision that forever wounded her loving but distant mother. Saltzman’s memoir covers her experiences helping to shoot Mehta’s most recent film, Water. During this time, the author was not only attempting to find herself but also to reconcile with her mother. (Hindsight suggests that maybe a frenetic film set was not the best place to attempt such a thing.) Shot on location in Benares in 1999, the period drama about Hindu widows turned out to be a provocative affair in a country convulsed in the recent past by mob-fueled ethnic bloodshed. Self-appointed guardians of India’s Hindu heritage were soon resisting Mehta and her crew, which included Saltzman as an untrained third assistant cameraperson; eventually, sets were burned and death threats made. Meanwhile, the author was learning as much as she could about the filmmaking process (her mother seemed to prefer the sink-or-swim method) and trying desperately not to fall in love with a fellow crew member who was oh-so-wrong for her. Later sections follow Saltzman as she studied at Oxford and then reconvened with Water five years later on its new location in strife-torn Sri Lanka. Although the memoir seems intended as an evocation of her relationship with Mehta—the book’s publication coincides with Water’s theatrical release—it’s more successful in conveying the author’s impressions of India. The human figures in this melodrama recede far into the background, overwhelmed by the immensity of the sprawling, beautiful, violent world Saltzman encounters.
A languid and sensuous exploration of the subcontinent through the eyes of an estranged daughter.