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WaterWater : Movie Review
09th Mar 2007  21.39 IST
By Aparajita Ghosh  


Water , Deepa Mehta's third movie in her 'elemental trilogy', is a compelling, disturbing and evocative film about the arid, austere and deprived lives of Hindu widows in the India of 1930s.

The movie's story stands in sharp contrast to the times when the whole nation, led by Mahatma Gandhi, was fighting for liberation and independence from the imperial British. But the women and young girls who were widowed at early age were conveniently thrown in the widow ashrams to lead a sequestered, ascetic life of little comforts and many elusive hopes.




The story of 'Water' focuses on the lives of three such widows. The three widows belong to different ages and have different hopes, aspirations and viewpoints towards life.

Eight-year-old Chuyia (Sarala) becomes a widow after the death of her husband, an ailing old man. Her long hair is shaved and she is left to spend the rest of her life in a widow ashram run by a gluttonous, grossly fat and dictatorial 70-year-old Madhumati (Manorma).

Young Chuyia is unable to accept the enforced asceticism of the ashram. She rebels, thereby upsetting the lives of other widows who lead a lifeless existence.

One such widow is Shakuntala ( Seema Biswas ), who is in her mid thirties. Within Shakuntala is a conflict between her faith and her inability to accept her fate. She is sincere in her devotional practice but she also questions the scriptures.

And then there is beautiful Kalyani ( Lisa Ray ), an eighteen-year-old widow.

Since the ashram has no means of financial support, Madhumati, ashram's obese head, takes the help of a transvestite pimp, a eunuch called Gulabi ( Raghuvir Yadav ) to push Kalyani into prostitution.

A new hope comes into Kalyani's life after her meeting with Narayan ( John Abraham ), an intellectual, Gandhian nationalist. Narayan falls in love with Kalyani and she also feels the same for him. He wants to marry her, despite an obvious opposition from his Brahmin parents.

The plot of 'Water' wends through some expected and unexpected twists and the story concludes on a hopeful note. And one of the important subplots in the movie is the effect that Chuyia and Kalyani have on Shakuntala.

Although the film is set in Varanasi, it was shot in Sri Lanka after Mehta wasn't allowed to shoot in the holy city by Hindu fanatics in 2000. The natural backdrop in the film may seem a little lush than Varanasi, but it serves well the intended contradiction between the nature's beauty and the aridity of the lives of shaven-headed widows clad in whites. Water serves as the metaphor of change and yet constancy.

Deepa Mehta tells the story with sensitivity and sublimity. The grave mood of the movie is equally balanced with light humoured moments, dances, music, songs (by AR Rahman) and simmering romance between John and Lisa. Giles Nuttgen's camera lingers on the natural beauty of the landscape and also captures the grim squalor of the dilapidated two-story building, which is the ashram.

'Water' is packed with powerful performances by Seema Biswas, child artiste Sarala and Lisa Ray. Even John Abraham is more expressive than he normally is in Bollywood movies. But it is Seema Biswas who stands out from the lot. She sinks her teeth into her character of a woman who is both sustained and imprisoned by her faith. Manorama is convincing as the fat and domineering head of the ashram.

After her 'Earth' and 'Fire', Deepa Mehta concludes her trilogy with a very befitting and emotionally stirring movie. Even though its story is set in the past, it holds a great relevance to the sexual inequity and female oppression that is still to be seen in many parts of the world. And the movie's Indian release (a day after the International Women's Day) could not have been better timed.

Rating: ****



Related
Water
Seema Biswas
Lisa Ray
Raghuvir Yadav
John Abraham
Deepa Mehta





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