Romeo and Juliet and the Romantic Politics of Deepa Mehta's film Water

October 9, 2011 - 2:45am

“Romeo and Juliet and the Romantic Politics of Deepa Mehta's film Water” will be the topic of Dr. Keith Harrison’s presentation on Friday, Oct. 14, from 10 to 11:30 am in the Malaspina Theatre (Building 310). His presentation is the second in the Fall 2011 Arts and Humanities Colloquium series.

Harrison, who teaches literature, film, and creative writing at VIU, is the award-winning author of five novels, a book of short fiction, and a travel and family memoir. He has published research on Shakespeare and has worked for the National Film Board of Canada-- two interests that will converge in his Colloquium presentation on the use of Shakespeare’s tragedy in the Indo-Canadian director’s 2005 film.

Water -- a film that stirred controversy, riots, burning, and death threats even before its much delayed completion -- is the third in Deepa Mehta's trilogy of "elemental" films that began with Fire (1996) and continued with Earth (1998). It can be cited in many political contexts, most obviously that of religious traditionalism versus the autonomy of women.

“The haunting depiction of the confinement and exploitation of widows -- one of them a child -- raises human rights issues that are even larger than those of gender,” says Harrison. “Water explores the theme of intolerance from the perspective of a broad humanism.”

Set in 1938 during the Raj, Water enters into the post-colonial discourse where Shakespeare is viewed as a symbol of British culture, and as an instrument for colonization used as a rationale for the "civilizing" mission of conquest in India.

However, in Water, Mehta fuses Shakespearean romantic loss with the historical narrative of India's journey towards Independence. Because the experience of romantic love activates a broader resistance to intolerance and oppression, the Shakespearean references in Water take on a political definition and, ultimately, act as a liberating force.
This way, a mocking allusion to Romeo and Juliet becomes a catalyst towards independence for the protagonist, and is linked, in turn, to the larger project of national self-fulfilment.

“Shakespeare’s play becomes the key that foreshadows and validates a post-national space where the lives of women might be uttered more freely,” says Harrison.
Harrison’s presentation will be followed by a discussion and accompanied by refreshments. It is open to the public and free of charge.

For more information please contact Katharina Rout at <>

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