Directed by Deepa Mehta
Starring Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, Sarala
A widow should be long suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste.
A virtuous wife who remains chaste when her husband has died goes to heaven.
A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is reborn in the womb of a Jackal.
The Laws of Manu
Chapter 5 verse 156-161
Copied from www.waterthefilm.co.uk
First things first, Water is an astonishingly beautiful film, the setting of 1930s India allows for the inclusion of political and social upheaval with Ghandi becoming a rising force against British occupation, the setting also allows for a more romanticised, mysterious, exotic India, more appealing to the eye and certainly more acceptable to a mainstream audience, particularly in mother India itself.
Several years in the making due to violent protests and death threats during the initial filming, Water, the third and final instalment in Deepa Mehtas elemental trilogy (following Fire (1996) and Earth (1998)) deals with an aspect of Indian society that even in these times, is an open wound.
The story follows Chuyia, an eight year old bride who soon becomes an eight year old widow, from long hair and beautiful clothes to shaved head and plain robes within an instant. Relieved of any normality in her life and finding herself abandoned in an ashram, a residence for widows where they are pretty much cut off from the rest of the world.
In this tiny world, Chuyia manages to upset a few of the older widows but forms a deep bond with a couple as well, she desperately longs to return to the bosom of her family but as time passes, she comes to realise that her old life is no more.
One of the women she becomes attached to is the beautiful Kalyani (Lisa Ray) who lives an almost separate life from the others. Out of all the widows, she is the only one whose hair isnt shaved, arriving at the ashram at the tender age of nine, Kalyani has been forced into becoming the breadwinner, being prostituted out to provide money to feed the others. In a world of contradictions, the widows rely on her for their very survival yet do not allow her to partake within their society because of what she has been forced into, double standards which reflect the caste system of the outside world.
The mid section of the film concentrates more on Kalyani as she becomes the tragic figure in an almost Bollywood style tale of love. Her lover carries the values of Ghandis teachings but not even his modern thinking can prevent the tragedy to come. The sacred water of the river Ganges come into play many times during the film but never with more poignancy than during this episode.
The arc of the story then swings back to Chuyia and her redemption from a life as tragic as Kalyanis, its quite evident that the widow who has set herself as top dog in the ashram intends to procure clients for Chuyia and live off her immoral earnings. Luckily for her, Chuyia does have a protector with a conscience.
Deepa Mehta was appalled when she discovered that these ashrams still existed, and that even here, the hypocrisy of the caste system was very much alive. Its a shame that to ensure Water would be well received, she has had to resort to making a film that will entertain the masses and may affect them rather than the reverse.
Exquisite, entertaining but not as damning of its subject matter as I would have wished, well worth seeing though.
BBFC rated 12a
No news of a UK dvd release yet.