The tropics really pop in Jean Renoir’s The River (1951), the first film to be shot in Technicolor in India. The film’s photographic depiction of a wet, verdant Bengal prompted Rumer Godden, author of the novel on which Renoir’s film is based, to complain that the film’s backgrounds had “swamped” its narrative with an “overabundance of Indian life and color.”1 In his memoirs, Renoir refers to scouting locations along the banks of the Hugli with his production designer, Eugène Lourié. There, Lourié discovered a palace that belonged to the maharaja of Gwalior, but its grounds were deemed insufficiently green. The lawn, yellowed somewhat by the summer sun, was torn out and a new one sown. Yet even the freshly grown grass wasn’t green enough for Renoir: on the day of filming, Claude Renoir (the director of photography and the director’s nephew) could be seen splashing the grass with green paint.
FQ Columnist Bilal Qureshi reflects on Deepa Mehta’s film Earth at an important moment in Indian and global history. Writing from New Delhi, he had the opportunity to speak to Mehta in person about her life and work, and that discussion is woven into this column. Since making Earth almost twenty years ago, Deepa Mehta has seen her stature grow to include film festival premieres, an Oscar nomination, and a platform as one of the rare women auteurs on the international stage. She has lived in Canada since the 1970s, but her most celebrated films are not about immigrant displacement or hyphenated identity. Rather, she has always told Indian stories. From the groundbreaking story of a lesbian relationship between two housewives in suffocating arranged marriages (Fire, 1996) to the forced exile of widows in orthodox Hindu scripture (Water, 2005), she has confronted uncomfortable social realities in Indian society. Although she has been labeled an anti-national and had sets burned and cinemas attacked by the religious right for insulting traditional values, she has taken the challenges in stride and continued making films.