Extremist groups waged a campaign of death threats, arson and riots to stop the production of this controversial film, but director Deepa Mehta would not be silenced. Set against Gandhi's rise to power, Water tells the pro... more »foundly moving story of Chuyia, an Indian girl married and widowed at eight years old, who is sent away to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. Chuyia's feisty presence deeply affects the other residents, forcing each to confront their faith and society's prejudices.« less
Pam M. from MANCHESTER, CT Reviewed on 2/9/2013...
This is a beautiful movie with a poignant story. The story centers around an 8 year old widow, yes you read that right, who is outcast from her family and sent to live in an impoverished ashram with other widows as is and was the tradition in India. The story is set in the 1930s against a backdrop of the rise of Mahatma Gandi It has many light moments, but there is no getting around the message. Apparently the filmmaker had to deal with death threats, arson, and riots to get this story told.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Toni B. (twintoni) from ORANGE PARK, FL Reviewed on 4/10/2009...
A story set in India in 1938 about the treatment of widows. Very engrossing and heart-wrenching. A beautiful movie.
2 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
A Social Conscious Film of Uncommon Beauty.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 09/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Water" is the third film in writer/director Deepa Mehta's elemental trilogy, following "Fire" and "Earth". It explores the plight of widows in traditional Hindu culture, where women are condemned to a grim, rudimentary existence after their husbands die. Driven by characters as much as by its cause, this is not a bleak film. On the contrary, "Water" is breathtakingly beautiful. In India in 1938, young Chuyia (Sarala) is widowed at the age of 8. By religious law, when a man dies, his wife may either be cremated with him, marry his brother, or live the life of an ascetic -chaste, poor, and pious. Chuyia's head is shaved, her jewelry removed, and she is sent to live in an ashram with other widows of all ages. She is befriended by a pretty widow named Kalyani (Lisa Ray), watched over by the devout and generous Shakuntula (Seema Biswas), and often at odds with the ashram's callous matriarch Madhumati (Manorama), who pays the rent by prostituting Kalyani. A handsome law student with progressive politics, Narayan (John Abraham), is smitten by Kalyani. But it is sinful for widows to remarry, and Kalyani is a prostitute besides.
The story of making "Water" is a drama in itself. Filming in India in 2000 was shut down by violent protests by religious fundamentalists, who believed the film was anti-Hindu. Deepa Mehta's view is that a misinterpretation of religious texts has perpetuated the dreadful state of widows in Indian culture, which is actually the result of economics. If a widow is sent away upon the death of her husband, her own family does not have to pay to feed or house her, and her would-be inheritance remains in her husband's family. In any case, there were riots, Deepa Mehta was burned in effigy, and the film's sets were thrown into the river. Four years later, the film was recast and the production moved to Sri Lanka, where filming began again. All of the temples and buildings that you see are sets by production designer Dilip Mehta. Sarala, who plays Chuyia, is Sri Lankan and does not speak a word of Hindi. She learned all of her lines phonetically. Somehow that doesn't even seem odd amid this international cast and creative crew.
Giles Nuttgens' cinematography is a force in this film. Everything appears so alive and luminous that I wanted to step into this world to be bathed in its beautiful light and touch its delicate features. The light has a striking purity. The film's score by Canadian Mychael Danna and songs by Indian composer A.R. Rahman are an ideal auditory accompaniment to "Water"'s visual splendor. Although it focuses our attention on the plight of widows in India, "Water" is not a realistic film on the narrative level. Kalyani and Narayan are idealized characters. She is pure, lovely, and suffering. He educated, and socially progressive. To Narayan, Kalyani is a romantic figure, a fragile, innocent soul in need of rescuing. The idea that a wealthy, educated man would want to marry an illiterate peasant prostitute who will never understand his causes or his world view seems far-fetched. But Kalyani's reticence and Narayan's sensitivity draw us in. Narayan is a change of pace for John Abraham, who is an Indian supermodel and Bollywood star. Lisa Ray is Canadian, also a supermodel in India, but Hindi is not her first language. Director Deepa Mehta has a real talent for casting the perfect actors from seemingly unlikely choices.
For all of Kalyani and Narayan's beauty and sympathy, "Water" is not their film. Shakuntula is the character who has an arc, and Seema Biswas gives the film's great performance. She personifies the conflict between conscience and faith that is at "Water"'s core. (You many remember Seema Biswas from her lead role in "Bandit Queen".) Manorama, who has acted in an extraordinary 1301 movies, is memorably sharp as the matriarch Madhumati. Professor of Hindi literature Dr. Vidula Javalgekar plays the kindly, sweet-toothed, elderly widow Patiraji, a woman who must be very unlike herself. "Water" is simply a gorgeous sensory experience that movie-lovers won't want to miss. In Hindi (and some Sanskrit) with English or Spanish subtitles or English captions.
The DVD (20th Century Fox 2006): "Behind the Scenes" (20 min) includes interviews with writer/director Deepa Mehta and the cast. Mehta talks about the controversy surrounding the film and its themes. The actors discuss Mehta's directing style, mastering the period mannerisms, and their characters. "The Story Behind the Making of Water" (4 min) is about the controversy and the ill-fated first attempt to film "Water". There is a good, continuous audio commentary by Deepa Mehta in which discusses the sets, actors, character development, cinematography and lighting, the film's score, and provides additional information about Indian culture."
MICHAEL ACUNA | Southern California United States | 05/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Water" is a beautiful, tragic, sad, emotionally available film about the deplorable situation in India in regards to its many millions of widows: who are segregated into Ashrams, forced to beg in the street, some into prostitution to support the Ashram and are viewed as if not Untouchable...then unavailable for remarriage. "Water" focuses on the beautiful very young, as in 9 years old, Chuyia (Sarala), Kalayani (Lisa Ray), both widows and Narayana (John Abraham): a young Ghandhi follower in love with Kalayani. The time is 1938, India is in social, political and religious upheaval but director Deepa Mehta uses this as only a backdrop for her very personal and tragic story. At times, though her agenda is without a doubt important, Mehta's approach is too overwrought, too heavy-handed. But her film is so gorgeous and her mise en scene so much about the cleansing qualities of color: turquoises, lemon yellows, scarlet reds, lime greens...that most of this didactic quality can be forgiven. Water can cleanse, Water can heal, Water brings forth life and renewal and "Water" is full of these images but it is also about Hope for the future and Redemption through the restorative power of Love. "
A Moving Portrait of Life in Rural India
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 06/07/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When I was in film school, I remember a professor showing an Indian film called "Panther Panchali". Despite the terrible print, I could see director Satyajit Ray was an artist. "Panchali" is a beautiful film about a poor Indian family living through the monsoon season. I then went on to discover some of his other films. A couple of years ago, Merchant Ivory hosted a retrospective of Ray's films and these restored prints are available on DVD. You are depriving yourself if you do not watch these films.
As I watched "Water", the new film from director Deepa Mehta, I was constantly reminded of Ray's films. The composition, pacing, subject matter and acting style are all the same.
Chuyia (Ronica Sajnani Sarala), a seven year old girl, finds she has become a widow; her arranged husband has died leaving her adrift in a society that favors men. Religious law dictates if she lives a chaste life she will join her husband in heaven. Of course, she doesn't know or understand any of this when her family takes her to a home, to live with other widows. She soon meets the matriarch of the house, Sadananda (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), a fat woman who eats the most food, Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), a bitter woman who shows some compassion to Chuyia and Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a young woman who is allowed to grow her hair out and meet `clients' to help support the house. Soon, Chuyia meets Narayana (John Abraham), a bachelor from a rich family who is instantly attracted to Kalyani. As their relationship grows, there are murmurs of Gandhi leading the Indian people to independence from Britain.
Deepa Mehta has crafted a beautiful film depicting a sad reality in India's history. As one character states, families used this religious practice to free themselves of a financial burden and another mouth to feed. In this belief, there are three ways of dealing with a widow; marry her to a younger brother of the deceased male, have her join her husband on the funeral pyre, or banish her to a house to live with other widows until she dies and rejoins her husband in Heaven. Of course, if a wife dies, the husband is free, encouraged to remarry. After Mehta establishes the details of this practice, she introduces us to the main characters, the people who will inhabit the story we are about to watch. There are people from every generation in this house; "Auntie" is an elderly widow who still dreams of the sweets she had at her wedding, when she was seven, Sadananda seems to be a gang leader, or pimp, sending Kalyani out to meet married men, to help support the house and her eating habits. Sadly, every generation is represented.
The growing relationship between Kalyani and Narayana is very believable and touching. Indian tradition and the difficulties of Kalyani's position dictate they must behave in a certain way. But Narayana is a modern Indian man and he soon tells his mother he and Kalyani will be married. When his mother finds out his intended bride is a widow, she is shocked and won't allow it. But Narayana has no doubt that he will wed his lover, all it takes is some convincing.
As the story moves towards its emotional climax, Shakuntala becomes the voice of reason. She helps Kalyani get out of the house to meet her lover and eventually helps other members of the house.
Mehta composes every shot with a painter's eye. Vivid colors poke out throughout every frame, colors so bright they appear to be painted on the screen. As we watch these characters struggle to live in the house, they make infrequent trips outside to bathe, walk, and experience. Inside the house, everyone wears a sari made of the same natural cloth and everything is rather drab. But as they explore the neighboring community, we see women wearing bright saris, vivid flowers and bright gold, copper and silver. The difference between the two worlds is very noticeable and helps to contrast the living conditions of the two different groups.
Ray used the same attention to detail in his films creating beautiful compositions in black and white.
Both filmmakers chose similar subject matter. Like Ray before her, Mehta has chosen a fairly simple, straight forward story. Because the story doesn't have a lot of distractions, it allows you to concentrate on the characters and give them your attention. The actors provide vivid, interesting portrayals that compliment the story.
"Water" is a very good film. Search it out and you will be rewarded. "
"Live life and be happy"
M. J Leonard | Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA United States | 08/31/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A film of jaw-jopping beauty and deeply held poetical lyricism, Deepa Mehta's spectacular Water - the final installment of her devastatingly beautiful Indian trilogy - is a film of overwhelming tragedy, a gorgeous homage to the country of her birth and a real testament to the resilience of her people's spirit.
Steeping her story in Indian spirituality, Mehta sets her atmospheric film in 1938 Colonial India during Gandhi's rise to power. Times are changing for this country that for so long now has only known British rule. New laws are being passed and the young - particularly the men - are gradually opening to the new ways and becoming more liberal minded.
Change, however, seems far from the young Chuyia (Sarala) when her father drops her at an ashram for widows. A child bride and married for economic reasons, her much older husband unexpectedly died. Now considered a financial burden by her family she is sent to a house where she is forced to live a life of rigorous penitence and is never allowed to remarry.
Here she meets the Madame of the house Madhumati (Manorma), a hugely fat and authoritarian woman in her mid-70s, who runs the house like a nazi, lauding it over all the other women. Of course, Chuyia has a hard time adjusting to this new life of singing religious hymns every day, wearing only white and begging on the streets for money.
People avoid them like the plague; many Hindus believe that if they bump into a widow, they will be polluted and must do rituals of purification. Chuyia doesn't really understand any of this, but she has a sharp tongue and her rebellious instincts upset the other widows who reside in this decrepit two-story dwelling built around a court and overlooking the river, most probably the Ganges.
Soon the child befriends Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), a kindly woman who struggles to calm the girl down even as she herself struggles with issues of faith and self-worth. But it is to the young and beautiful widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray), whom Chuyia is most drawn to.
Through Chuyia, Kalyani meets Narayan (John Abraham), a law student and Gandhi nationalist who is from a wealthy Indian family is an ardent believer in the civil disobedience campaign of Mahatma Gandhi. Narayan falls in love with Kalyani and their romance plays out against the backdrop of the rainwater and the sacred water of the Ganges where people bath, do rituals, and send the ashes of the dead.
Narayan promises to take Kalyani away and marry her, but the ancient Indian faith is very firm about widows remarrying. And although a new law has recently been passed - supported by Gandhi - the men who still have the power are intent to ignore laws that cause inconvenience to them.
Mehta totally steeps her film in the social and political - and even religious - ramifications of the day, with Gandhi - and the promise of reform always in the background. This leader has begun to speak against the harsh treatment of women and the caste system, angering Hindu fundamentalists. But to the widows and other outcasts, he is a guiding light and a symbol of hope.
Lush and full of atmosphere, Water contains some of the most unforgettable images of startling beauty. Indeed the calm magnificence and spirituality of the landscape - the constant ebb and flow of the water - makes a violent contrast to the oppression these widows must face, all in the name of religion.
The impact is devastating and to think that these women, are even today, forced to follow chauvinistic religious rules that were put in place thousands of years ago by texts that are still treated as revered and sacred. Mike Leonard August 06. "
Outstanding, but it will burn your heart
Fred L. Houpt | 03/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You really should view Mehta's three films that make up the trilogy in order. With Earth she covers the carnage, brutality and massacres of the Indian civil war that broke out at the state of Independence from Britain. Fire covers sexual politics and is an incredibly brave film which is taboo shattering for Indian audiences. With "Water" Mehta has created a masterpiece. You cannot sit and watch this film without feeling the pain of the discarded Hindu widows. The little child that does not even know she has been married is forced into a secluded and highly restrictive life, made to feel little higher in society than a leper. Looked down upon by other Hindus with a disdain that is imbued with hatred, these poor women must fend for themselves till death.
Of course Mehta is outraged that India remains so hidebound to traditions that are anti-life. This movie caused a sensation in India when she tried to film it there. At the outset she had been given permission, the script had been vetted, the actors selected, sets built. Then came the backlash of vile innuendo spread by the BJP in the press. Not knowing any better, people gathered at the film set, protested and then trashed the set, causing a distraught and shocked Mehta to exit India. The film remained on the shelf, she did more films and then miraculously raised the budget all over again; this time removed to Sri Lanka with a new cast.
What is miraculous is that looked at now the film seems to be perfect and could not have been improved upon had it been shot earlier. The cast completely shines from top to bottom. The young girl chosen to play the child widow was a Sri Lankan and Hindi was not a language she knew. Instead of shirking from this, Mehta worked with her and the little girl spoke her lines phonetically; as a non-Hindi speaker I could not have detected anything. She is a perfectly natural actress and her portrayal is very powerful.
This is a very heartbreaking film and you simply cannot see it without feeling grief and yet at the very end, hope. As of early 2007 the film has yet to play in India although I hear that plans for it's premier are for later this year. I'll believe it when I read of it. This film holds certain Hindu traditions up to severe scrutiny and the image will make millions in India very uncomfortable. It should. A tremendous achievement."