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Water: A film review

Updated on February 5, 2010
Chuyia, a child widow of eight years old
Chuyia, a child widow of eight years old
Chuyia and Narayan
Chuyia and Narayan
Chuyia and Kalyani by the Gangies
Chuyia and Kalyani by the Gangies
Kalyani and Narayan
Kalyani and Narayan
Chuyia and Shakuntala
Chuyia and Shakuntala
Chuyia dancing during a holiday at the temple
Chuyia dancing during a holiday at the temple
DeepaMehta: Writer, director of Water
DeepaMehta: Writer, director of Water

The main characters
Chuyia: A seven year old child/widow
Kalyani:A young, beautiful widow in her 30's who has been prostituted by Madhumati.
Narayan:A commoner and follower of Ghandi, who meets Kalyani and falls in love with her
Shakuntala:a deeply religious but conflicted 40 year old member of the group who tries to protect Kalyani and Chuyia.
Madhumati: A mean old widow who has taken on the role of leader at the ashram.

The Oscar nominated film Water is part of a trilogy written and directed by Deepa Mehta, well known east Indian film-maker, famous for writing and filming social dramas. The first two parts are entitled Fire and Earth.

The third part, Water, addresses the issue of widows in India, who have become outcasts as a result of their husbands dying. The film focuses on the lives of a group of young and old widowed women who have been cast out of society upon the deaths of their husbands and sent to live out their lives in a widow's ashram. According to Indian beliefs at that time, if a woman's husband dies', she has three options: One, to marry her husband's younger brother, if his family permits; two, to kill herself on his funeral pyre; three, to live a life of celibacy, discipline, and solitude amongst her own kind.

The action takes place in a widow's ashram in the city of Varanasi in 1938, when India was still ruled by the British and Ghandi, having arrived from Africa, was about to start his battle against age old traditions binding the Hindus.The story begins when eight-year-old Chuyia, married when she was seven, is told by her parents that her husband has died and that she must go and live with other widowed women. They take her to an impoverished widow's ashram and leave her there. She resists having anything to do with the women or the ashram and insists that her parents will be coming back soon to take her home. But after realizing they were not coming back for her, she settles into the life of a shunned widow.

Chuyia makes friends with Kalyani, a young beautiful widow forced into prostitution by Madhutami to earn money for the ashram. Eventually Kalyani meets Narayan, a follower of Ghandi, who falls in love with her. The two plan to marry but are confronted with the social stigma that frowns on widows becoming involved with commoners or even marrying, for that matter. Shakuntala who is protective of Chuyia and Kalyani, spends most of her time by the Ganges. When she eventually learns from her guru a law has been passed allowing widows to remarry, she realizes that there might be a future for Chuyia other than her constricted and sad life. Although Kilyani and Narayan never realize their dream of being together, Chulyia's life takes an upswing by the end of the film

This film reflects the psychological damage caused by a life of continuing poverty, discrimination, mental and physical abuse, and repression. It exemplifies how religious and cultural traditions may repress various groups of people while they elevate others. The title Water is symbolic of the rain water and the sacred water of the Ganges where people bath, do rituals, and send the ashes of the dead.

In an interview, Deepa Mehta stated: "Water can flow or water can be stagnant. I set the film in the 1930s but the people in the film live their lives as it was prescribed by a religious text more than 2,000 years old. Even today, people follow these texts, which is one reason why there continue to be millions of widows. To me, that is a kind of stagnant water. I think traditions shouldn't be that rigid. They should flow like the replenishing kind of water."

Water is one of the best social dramas I have ever seen. It is poignant, moving, and controversial. The deprivations experienced by Hindu widows is still an issue today in a country with 33 million widows.It depicts the terrible damage that can be done to the human spirit when chauvinistic religious rules and texts are treated as sacrosanct. The inhumane treatment of widows in India by Hindu fundamentalists is similar to the subjugation of women by fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims elsewhere. It is appalling to see religion used to deny the dignity and rights of women. Deepa Mehta has done all women an immense service by making this extraordinary film about the liberation their sisters yearn for with their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.

* Poetry dedicated to little girls like Chuyia:



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