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Under the Surface

Devyani Saltzman chronicles the story behind the story

By Andrew Stewart

Shooting WaterMemoirs are often inspirational -- personal tales that leave readers feeling good. But Devyani Saltzman’s Shooting Water: A Mother-Daughter Journey and the Making of a Film goes against the flow. The book chronicles her time as part of the production crew for the film Water, which was written and directed by her mother, Deepa Mehta. Part diary, part documentary, it provides a look into Saltzman’s personal life, where she dwells on the impact of her parents’ divorce when she was eleven-years-old and how it has affected her since.

Along with the details of the writer’s unhappy upbringing, the book reveals the challenges of making a film. From finding a location, dealing with local issues and working with the cast, readers learn to appreciate the accomplishment of getting Water to theatres.

Saltzman details what she learned on set as a third-assistant cameraperson until the Indian government shut down production of the film. Media protests claimed that the movie was filled with pornographic sexuality -- quite the opposite of a widow’s life in Hindu India -- and suggested the film would portray the country in a negative light. 

The narrative is interspersed with stories from behind the scenes, including one in which a movie theatre operator in Sri Lanka refuses to keep the theatre quiet while filming until given a bribe. The crew has no choice but to pay him. Anecdotes like this help make the book more fun to read and offset the more depressing parts of the story.

Saltzman begins to give insight into her personal life but shies away from delving deeply into her narratives, such as those involving her relationship with fellow film worker Vikram. She claims to love him early in the book, but then seems to avoid talking about him save for two incredibly brief instances after the book’s mid-point. The undeveloped love story with Vikram has no obvious purpose other than to illustrate yet another relationship that has caused pain in her life.

The book outlines the struggles of a newcomer to the film industry -- finding work on set and living in another country for a short time. Saltzman re-creates the feelings she had in India, purveying shyness as the new kid on the job, afraid that others will judge her for being on the project only because she is the director’s daughter rather than her capabilities. Saltzman attempts to evoke sympathy from the reader, but is, for the most part, unsuccessful.

The book creates a vision of what goes on behind the scenes of the film, with images of the crew crowding into small rooms to film, record audio, take photographs and direct, making the reader appreciate the amount of effort put into the creation of a movie. The writer’s overwhelming pessimism, however, detracts from the experience.