UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Women’s bodies as sites of signification and contestation : an analysis of Deepa Mehta’s critique of narratives of home, nation and belonging in the elemental trilogy Madhuri, Snigdha


This thesis examines Deepa Mehta’s trilogy—Water, Earth, Fire—and the trilogy’s exploration and contestation of colonial, anti-colonial nationalist, and religious ideologies as intersecting with patriarchal norms to enact symbolic and actual violence on the bodies of women. I argue that Mehta’s trilogy foregrounds the ways in which patriarchal nationalism legitimizes violence against women’s bodies and sexualities through different social and cultural practices and discourses which are interconnected. To explain the historical and contemporary contexts of Indian women’s domination and the ways they resist this domination, Mehta’s films unveil the underlying power relations among social forces such as colonialism, anti-colonial reform movements, post-colonial nationalism, religious and patriarchal heteronormative discourses which make women’s domination an acceptable cultural norm. Through an analysis of the experiences of women portrayed in Mehta’s films, I posit that the constructions of the Indian nation, in terms of national culture, tradition and identity, are gendered in specific ways that construct the Indian woman, both symbolically and physically, as a site where nationalist ideology provokes their political liberation, self-representation and agency. Mehta’s films disrupt these historical and contemporary practices, discourses and norms through the depictions of women’s multiple identities, experiences and sexualities. Her works demonstrate the ways in which women constantly resist, contest and negotiate with this domination and violence through their daily activities and narratives.

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