“Is Gandhi the hero?”: A Reappraisal of Gandhi’s Views about Women in Deepa Mehta’s Water
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).
KeywordsGandhi’s ideas on women, Deepa Mehta, Hinduism, Indian-Canadian cinema, Indian widows, Pre-independence India, Dialogism, Indian feminism
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