“Water,” released in 2005 to highly critical acclaim is the final film in Canadian film director’s Deepa Mehta’s trilogy, “Fire” and “1947,Earth” being the other two. It is a poignant and moving commentary on the pitiful plight of Indian widows who are forced to lead a life of renunciation after their husband’s death. The film is set amidst the political turmoil of the 1930’s.
“Water,” narrates the painful story of eight year old Chuiya (Sarala) brought to the widows ashram in Varanasi, her beautiful friend in the ashram Kalyani ( Lisa Ray) and Kalyani’s admirer Narayan (John Abraham), a law student from a wealthy Indian family who is an ardent believer in the civil disobedience movement of Mahatma Gandhi.
Chuiya’s innocent question- “For how long, papa?”- when her father informs her that she is now a widow, brings a tear to the viewers’ eye. It is tragic how a blossoming and mettlesome Chuiya is made to face the public humiliation of tonsure and forced to lead a claustrophobic life among the other widows in the ashram whose days are consumed by nothing other than chanting of Hindu religious hymns.
Deepa Mehta has deftly lain bare the Hindu religious notions that we follow blindly and consider sacrosanct. Through the narrative she makes us question whether it is justified to make widows atone for their husband’s death when in reality, they are in no way responsible for it.
Chuiya’s bond with Kalyani, a beautiful young widow who gets forced into prostitution becoming a concubine of wealthy aging landlords, strikes an emotional chord with the audience. Madhumati’s (Manorama) powerful performance instigates fear in all widows, so much so, that the vulnerable creatures cannot even think about an escape from their dreary lives.
Narayan and Kalyani’s romance is seen as a rebellious revolt against this oppressive system that we uphold to be so sacred. Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) is another widow in the ashram who tries to assist Kalyani to regain the freedom that could never be hers.
In my opinion, “Water’s” only flaw is its love story which lacks the depth it ought to have had.
Mychael Danna’s background score deserves a special mention. A.R.Rahman’s music is outstanding. The film is set in the picturesque country of Sri Lanka due to the destruction of its sets in India by Hindu activists, a country which is supposedly progressive and secular. The direction and cinematography too, deserve full marks.
The film is an eye opener to the dire state of Indian widows whose low status is because of our so called moral guardians of society and not because of any innate wickedness in them. Deepa Mehta has critiqued the Hindu customs and until and unless we review them with a broad mind nothing will ever change. The film does not leave us with an easy feeling but makes us question our beliefs, whether it is actually justified to consider widows as objects of dread and derision and their sight an ill-omen.
“Water” has won several prestigious awards. It was even nominated for the 79th Annual Academy Awards, but failed to win the honour.