The third of a trilogy starting with Fire and Earth, Water is yet another intriguing movie by writer and director Deepa Mehta. The shooting of the film began in Banaras (Varanasi), amidst great controversy and opposition from Hindu radicals due to the sensitive nature of the script and finally had to be stopped with the rest of the film being made in Sri Lanka instead.
Like her former two films, Deepa Mehta has chosen to portray a certain reality of the Indian society, but with a more powerful and hard-hitting effect that leaves you to wonder how rigid Indian society was in the past with remnants of these traditions still present today in smaller cities and rural areas.
It is a strong portrayal of the plight of widows in India who till today are considered a pariah or outcast. Set in the 1930’s, Water is a shocking depiction of the lives of widows during this period, which according to the Hindu religion meant that the woman either burnt herself alive (Sati, as it is known) with her dead husband or lived a segregated life away from society.
The film begins with Chuyia (Sarala) an eight-year old who has just turned a widow being told by her father that she will now have to move into an ashram in Banaras for widows. The ashram has several other widows living there in a life of distress and misery.
The widows are left to fend for themselves and live a life of extreme poverty by begging on the streets to just about earn enough for a meager living. Some of them also have to get into prostitution to make ends meet as begging alone cannot suffice the expenses of the ashram.
They also have to follow all the norms of the religion, which dictates that widows must not eat more than one meal a day; they must have their heads shaved and live a life of segregation, as they are considered inauspicious. The women, who became prostitutes to help run the ashram, had their quarters away from the rest of the women.
The film mainly revolves around three widows, Chuyia, who is the life and spirit of the ashram and has the belief that her parents will come back for her, but soon realizes that this will never happen. The others are the young beautiful widow, Kalyani, who is forced into prostitution and is allowed to keep her hair long for this purpose and Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), a devout Hindu, who believes in the traditions of the religion. She becomes a mother figure to Chuyia who is craving for her home. As against Hindu tradition, we also get to see a romance building up between Kalyani and the young and wealthy reformist, Narayan (John Abraham).
Narayan is inspired by the views of an upcoming reformist leader, Mahatma Gandhi, whose message of peace, equality, brotherhood and love have given rise to some staunch followers of his preaching. Narayan believes in Gandhi’s message of equality and wishes to marry Kalyani much against his parents will, who modern as they may be in lifestyle, still believe in the old Hindu traditions. The overpowering story and the great performances create a direct impact on our minds as we empathise with the characters and are also stunned by Mehta’s bold and daunting strength, for revealing a belief of the Hindu religion that is rather scandalous and appalling.
Awards: National Board of Review,Valladolid International Film Festival,Genie Awards,Bangkok International Film Festival,Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards,Vancouver Film Critics Circle,Young Artist Awards
Nominations: Genie Awards,Academy Awards,Valladolid International Film Festival,Chlotrudis Awards,Satellite Awards