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'Water' shooting stopped again, Mehta `asked to leave Varanasi'

By Our Special Correspondent

LUCKNOW, FEB. 6. The district administration at Varanasi today hurriedly ordered the stopping of the shooting of Ms. Deepa Mehta's film, Water, following a suicide bid by a Shiv Sena activist which created large-scale tension in the city. Unofficial reports reaching here from Varanasi said that Ms. Mehta has been asked to leave the city as soon as possible since the administration feared more trouble.

Earlier, the shooting of the film had started under heavy police protection. Some activists of the newly-formed Kashi Sanskriti Rakshan Sangharsh Samiti (KSRSS) were sitting on a dharna near the Assi Ghat crossing but the administration had ignored their protests.

A Shiv Sainik, Mr. Arun Pathak, had reportedly intimated the police about his intention to end his life if the shooting were not stopped. The administration, which seems to have taken the threat lightly, was taken by surprise when he proceeded to the middle of the river in a boat and took a jump.

Mr. Pathak was rescued and rushed to a hospital and his condition is stated to be critical.

(According to a PTI report from Varanasi quoting the Superintendent of Police, Mr. Ashok Jain, the Shiv Sainik tied a heavy stone round his waists, consumed some poisonous substance and jumped into the river. Soon after, KSRSS activists pelted stones damaging vehicles and shops at the Assi locality close to the shooting locale.

The administration then ordered the immediate stopping of shooting at 5.30 p.m. and escorted the film unit to its hotel.

At Lucknow, a team of the Kashi Vidwat Parishad met the Chief Minister, Mr. Ram Prakash Gupta, urging him not to permit the shooting of the film as it had many ``insulting references'' to Hinduism. An official spokesman told newspersons later that the District Magistrate of Varanasi, Mr. Alok Kumar, had been asked make an assessment of the law and order situation and take an appropriate decision, including a ban on the shooting, at his discretion.

RSS attacks Jaitley

In an interesting development, the Sangh Parivar today directed its ire against the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Arun Jaitley, for permitting Ms. Mehta to shoot the film. The charge against Mr. Jaitley, according to RSS critics, is that he was Ms. Mehta's lawyer during the legal battle over her earlier film, Fire, and this led to his being sympathetic to the filmmaker and bypassing several statutory norms.

PTI reports:

Meanwhile, the KSRSS has given a call for a Varanasi bandh on Tuesday protesting the shooting of the film. At Allahabad, the Union Heavy Industries Minister and senior Sena leader, Mr. Manohar Joshi, told reporters here that the film was an attempt to ``run down the image of widows'' in India.

Justifying the demonstrations against the film, Mr. Joshi said, ``Ms. Mehta, who had earlier produced controversial films like Fire and 1947- Earth should not be allowed to further denigrate Indian culture and widowhood.

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