“Is Gandhi the hero?”: A Reappraisal of Gandhi’s Views about Women in Deepa Mehta’s Water


  • Pilar Somacarrera-Íñigo Universidad Autónoma de Madrid


Set in 1938 against the backdrop of India’s anti-colonial movement led by Gandhi, the film Water (2005) by Deepa Mehta crudely exposes one of the most demeaning aspects of the patriarchal ideology of Hinduism: the custom of condemning widows to a life of self-denial and deprivation at the ashrams. Mehta has remarked that figures like Gandhi have inspired people throughout the ages. Nonetheless, in this essay I argue that under an apparent admiration for the figure of Gandhi in the context of the emancipation of India in general and widows in particular, Water questions whether Gandhi’s doctrines about the liberation of women were effective or whether, on the contrary, they contributed to restricting women to the private realm by turning them into personifications of the Indian nation. In this context of submission and oppression of women in India, Gandhi did try to improve their conditions though he was convinced that gender is destiny and that women’s chastity is connected to India’s national honour. I argue that Mehta’s film undermines Gandhi’s idealism by presenting images of him and dialogues in which he is the topic.  As a methodological approach, I propose a dialogic (Bahktin 1981) reading of the filmic text which analyses how a polyphony of voices praise and disparage the figure of Gandhi in Water. I will also analyse the film in the light of Bakhtin’s views on the hero (1983) and his notion of the “chronotope”(Bahktin 1981).


Gandhi’s ideas on women, Deepa Mehta, Hinduism, Indian-Canadian cinema, Indian widows, Pre-independence India, Dialogism, Indian feminism


ATWOOD, MARGARET (1972). Survival. A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Toronto: Anansi.

BAKHTIN, MIKHAIL(1981). Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Texas: Austin University Press.

BAKHTIN, MIKHAIL(1983). Trans. Caryl Emerson. Problems of Dostoevky’s Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

BURTON, DAVID F. (2013). “Fire, Water and The Goddess: The Films of Deepa Mehta and Satyajit Ray as Critiques of Hindu Patriarchy”, Journal of Religion and Film, vol. 17, Nº 2, article 3. https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1133&context=jrf accessed 12 November 2020.

BYRON, G.G. LORD (1886) The Complete Poetical Works, Vol. 5 McGann, J. (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

CHADHA, SIMRAN (2007). “Marginalised by Domesticity. The (Un) Desirable Women of Deepa Mehta’s Trilogy — Fire, Earth and Water,” In: Jasbir Jain (ed.), Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy. Jaipur: Rawat Publications. 85-99.

CHAUDHURI, SOHINI (2009). “Snake Charmers and Child Brides: Deepa Mehta’s Water, ‘Exotic’ Representation and the Cross-Cultural Spectatorship of South Asian Migrant Cinema.” South Asian Popular Culture, vol 7, Nº1: 7-20.

CHOPRA, SONIA (2007). “Gandhi is the Real Hero of Water”. “The Rediff Interview”, Rediff India Abroad, 19 February. https://www.rediff.com/movies/2007/feb/19deepa.htm#:~:text=Water%20is%20about%20the%20importance,Which%20is%20true accessed 4 October 2020.

CRUSELLAS, QUIM and GLORIA BERNET (2005). “Entrevista con la directora”, in Agua, Cameo (DVD).

DESAI, ASHWIN and GOOLAM VAHED (2016), The South African Gandhi. Stretcher-Bearer of Empire. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

DREVET, CAMILLE (1969). Trans. Ramón y Ángeles Bayés, Gandhi, su pensamiento político y su acción. Barcelona: Editorial Fontanella, 1962.

FISCHER, LOUIS (1983). Trans. Manuel Vazquez, Gandhi, Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1982.

FOWLER, Roger (1989). “Polyphony in Hard Times”, In: Ronald Carter & Paul Simpson (eds.), Language, Discourse and Literature. An Introductory Reader in Discourse Stylistics. London: Unwin Hyman. 77-93.

GANDHI, MAHATMA (1950-94). The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India, 1999, 98 volumes https://www.gandhiashramsevagram.org/gandhi-literature/collected-works-of-mahatma-gandhi-volume-1-to-98.php accessed 19 June, 2020.

HARRISON, KEITH (2017). Shakespeare, Bakhtin and Film. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-59743-0_9

HOPGOOD, FINCINA (2006). “The Politics of Melodrama in Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’”, Metro Vol. 149: 142-147.

JAIDKA, MANJU (2011). A Critical Study of Deepa Mehta’s Trilogy Fire, Earth and Water. New Delhi, Readworthy.

JAIN, JASBIR (2007). “The Diasporic Eye and the Evolving I: Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy”, In: Jasbir Jain (ed.). Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy. Films, Literature and Culture. Jaipur: Rawat Publications: 54-74.

KISHWAR, MADHU (1985). “Gandhi on Women”, Economic and Political Weekly, 5 October, Vol. 20, Nº 40: 1691-1702.

LEHMANN, COURTNEY (2016). ‘An Élan of the Soul’’ Counter-Cinema and Deepa Metha’s Water, Shakespeare’s Bulletin 34, Nº 3: 433-450. https://doi.org/10.1353/shb.2016.0035

MACAULAY, THOMAS (2004). “Minute on Indian Education “, In: Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (eds.), The Postcolonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge. 428-430. 1935.

MAHMOUD-ABUBAKER, MONA (2014). “The Contemporary Relevance of Gandhi’s Views on Women”, The Ahfad Journal 31, Nº3: 3-20.

MCINTOSH, ANDREW and AMY FUNG (2019). “Deepa Mehta”, The Canadian Encyclopedia,. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/deepa-mehta accessed 31 August 2020.

METHA, DEEPA (2005). Agua (Water) (film). Cameo. DVD.

METHA, DEEPA, PAWAN KUMAR and SHANKER RAMAN (2019). Leila (TV series). Netflix.

MISHRA, PANKAJ (2018). “Gandhi for the Post-Truth Age”. The New Yorker, October 15. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/22/gandhi-for-the-post-truth-age?utm_campaign=falcon&utm_social-type=owned&utm_source=facebook&mbid=social_facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_brand=tny&fbclid=IwAR2t91nIWjxgW-L4EsgXBOao2ZrlZKfFpHPMy96pO2k92iA43YkpSbM2UQQ accessed 9 October 2020.

MOOKERJEA-LEONARD, DEBALI (2010). “to be pure or not to be: Gandhi, women, and the Partition of India”, feminist review 94: 39-54. https://doi.org/10.1057/fr.2009.39

MUKHERJEE, TUTUN (2009). “Deepa Mehta’s Water. The Power of the Dialectical Image”, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Vol. 47, Nº 2, Autumn: 35-47.

MULCHANDANI, SANDHYA (2012). “Siguiendo la pista de los pasos de Gandhi”, India Perspectivas, vol. 26, Nº7: 6-13.

PARAMESWARAN, UMA (2007). “Problematizing Diasporic Motivation: Deepa Mehta’s Films, In: Jasbir Jain (ed.), Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy. Films, Literature and Culture. Jaipur: Rawat Publications: 10-22.

PAREKH, BHIKU (2001). Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

RAVINDRAN, MANORI (2020). “Ava Du Vernay’s Array Releasing Buys Deepa Mehta’s “Funny Boy”, with Netflix Launch Set for December, Variety, October 15. https://variety.com/2020/film/global/deepa-mehta-funny-boy-netflix-ava-duvernay-array-releasing-1234806405/ accessed 15 October 2020.

SALZMAN, DEVYANI (2005). Shooting Water: A Mother-Daughter Journey and the Making of a Film. New Delhi: Penguin Books.

SEN, K.M. (1982). Hinduism. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

SEN, N.B. (1960). Wit and Wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi. New Delhi: New York Society of India.

SIMONPILLAI, RADHEYAN (2017). “The Filmmakers”, CBC Arts,. September 8 https://www.cbc.ca/arts/thefilmmakers/how-deepa-mehta-mastered-the-art-of-telling-stories-only-an-indo-canadian-could-tell-1.4281637 accessed 1 October 2020.

SIMONPILLAI, RADHEYAN (2020). “Canadian director Deepa Mehta adapts Shyam Selvadurai’s gay coming-of-age novel Funny Boy for Netflix”, The Georgia Straight, October 17. https://www.straight.com/living/canadian-director-deepa-mehta-adapts-shyam-selvadurais-gay-coming-of-age-novel-funny-boy-for accessed 12 November 2020.

SINGH, VIJAYA (2007). “Exteriority, Space and Female Iconography in Deepa Mehta’s Water, In: Jasbir Jain (ed.). Films, Literature and Culture, Jaipur: Rawat Publications. 189-200.

SPACKS, PATRICIA MEYER (1985). Gossip. New York: Knopf, 1985.

SUBBAMMA, MALLADI (1992). Hinduism and Women, New Delhi: Ajanta Publications.

WADLEY, SUSAN (1977). “Women and the Hindu Tradition”, Signs Vol. 33, Nº2: 131-135.

WILLIAMS, LINDA. (1998). “Melodrama Revisited”, In: Nick Browne (ed.). Refiguring American Film Genres: History and Theory, Berkeley: University of California Press. 42-88.

ZINKIN, TANIA (1966). Trans. Mª Eugenia de Diego and José Luis Abellán. La India. Thames and Hudson: London.




Download data is not yet available.