Shooting a Film and Repairing a Complicated Mother-Daughter Relationship: A Review of Shooting Water

By Sneha Sastry


“Born into both Judaism and Hinduism, different religions were just different ways of understanding God,” says Devyani Saltzman in Shooting Water.

Although this is not the main focus of Saltzman’s memoir, to me, this was the book’s most powerful sentence. As a Hindu woman soon to be married to a Jewish man, I found it exciting and to some extent a relief to hear our shared perspective–that different religions are just different ways of understanding God–stated by the adult daughter of a Hindu woman and Jewish man.

While Saltzman’s interfaith upbringing did not seem to be a difficult issue for her, her relationship with her mother is another story. Forced at the tender age of eleven–in the midst of her parent’s divorce–to choose which parent to live with, Saltzman chose her Jewish father. The aftermath of that decision and her evolving relationship with her wounded mother–the award-winning filmmaker Deepa Mehta–is detailed in this memoir.

The making of Mehta’s recently released (in the U.S.) and controversial (in India) film Water, for which Devyani worked as a still photographer, serves as the backdrop for their story. Both women hoped that working together on the film would afford them an opportunity to repair their damaged relationship.

But Mehta ran into trouble while making her film. Water explores the lives of widows in India during colonial times and implies that religion was manipulated to justify economic benefits to the families of widows, enabling them to cast new widows out to survive on their own. Some Indian politicians perceived the film as an assault on religion and tradition, leading to waves of protests as the movie was being shot. Finally, a combination of protests, politics and financial issues shut down production of the movie in India, and it was not until several years later that the film could begin shooting (under a different name) in Sri Lanka. The original actors had to be replaced, not because they lost interest, but because they were no longer the appropriate ages to play their parts.

As the book unfolds, you can see both Mehta and Saltzman fervently holding onto this movie as if the fate of the film will determine the fate of their relationship. And in some ways they were right. Working on this project together did bring them closer. They each seemed to have gained be a better understanding of the relationship and of each other. Some level of forgiveness did emerge, although some work still remains to be done.

But the author’s weaving together of the two stories of making the film and repairing the mother-daughter relationship did not always succeed. Large sections of the book deal with Saltzman’s anxiety over her job of shooting “stills” for the film, and these sections did not advance the story of her relationship with her mother. In addition she kept referring to how long “we” had to wait and how much “we” had to go through, yet it seemed that after the production was first shut down, she merely continued on with her own life until her mother called her and informed her that the shooting of the film in Sri Lanka would begin with a start date of when Devyani was done with her exams (almost a year later.)

One can hear about a movie being “controversial” and know that there were some “difficulties” in the making of it, but this book gave me a little glimpse of what can happen behind the scenes when people dedicate themselves to something in which they truly believe–whether it be a movie or, perhaps more important, the relationship between a mother and a daughter.


About Sneha Sastry

Sneha Sastry, an M.D. who began her residency in Psychiatry at Northwestern University Hospital in July, is engaged to a Jewish man.