Director: Deepa Mehta
Stars: Sarala Kariyawasam, Seema Biswas, John Abraham, Lisa Ray, Manorama and others
Water is the third film of Deepa Mehta’s “Trilogy of elements”. It is a period drama which emanates the dark and inglorious past of a religion through an ashram of widows situated in Varanasi, in pre-independence India.
Chuya (played by Sarala Kariyawasam) is an eight year old girl who is forced to marry an old man under the tradition of child marriage. When her husband suddenly dies, she is strangled once again by traditional norms. Only this time, it was in the name of widowhood. And thus, she is estranged by her own family and sent to a widow ashram. Abiding to the widowhood laws of “Manusmriti” (a compilation of ancient texts and principles regarded as a sacred divine code by Hindus), her father sends her to a widow ashram where she has to live under strict religious and disciplinary principles. These include a shaven head and the benefit of consuming a meal made from wet uncooked rice once in every day. Shocked by how fate had consumed her eternally, Chuya becomes unrest and rebellious. All this changes when she acquaints herself with Kalyani (played by Lisa Ray) and Shakuntala (played by Seema Biswas). Kalyani is a beautiful and free-spirited young widow who is prostituted by Madhumati(played by Manorama), a colossal old bully who runs the ashram through Kalyani’s earnings. Shakuntala is a doughty middle aged widow who even Madhumati tries not to provoke. As Chuya starts adapting to the ashram’s environment, she bonds with Kalyani and Shakuntala in different ways. Soon, Kalyani encounters Narayan (played by John Abraham). Narayan is a charming, unconventional forward-thinker and an ardent follower of Mahtma Gandhi. He develops a romantic relationship with Kalyani and they begin a taboo filled journey of forbidden love. Shakuntala meanwhile battles with her inner demons of faith and objectivity. Before these dreary souls embark on a fairy tale, fate absconds to become a gloomy adversary.
Water is a monumental film on every aspect. It has a spectacularly gloomy cinematography which is reinforced by the startling nuptial of Western classical and Hindustani music by Mychael Danna and A.R.Rahman. The acting is first-rate, especially that of Seema Biswas. Water has a very pertinent and dare-to-tread-upon plot, narrated through unflinching relevance and encompassing not only the plights of a misogynistic society but also the horrific aspects of religion. According to “Manusmriti” as depicted by the film, the three options given to widows are the allowance to marry their late husband’s siblings or to immolate themselves on their husband’s pyre or to live a life of self denial. This might seem as a gross misrepresentation of religious conduct which is quite hard to believe. But, it is a bitter truth which has affected the women of India throughout the middle ages and it still doesn’t fail to oppress the fragile and the vulnerable, who are too weak to climb out of darkness, even after democratically objective laws have come in place. Water valiantly depicts the extent of horrific repercussions inflicted upon a society when fanaticism and fundamentalism of any sort is encouraged. And hence, it remains a testament for those who have been oppressed by religion and to those who are being oppressed in insignificant and invisible shadows.