Water is set in 1938 in Northern India in the holy city of Benares (now Varanasi) on the banks of the Ganges. Gandhi, fresh from South Africa, is touring India and bringing hope and inspiration to many, especially as a champion for the most disadvantaged: the poor, the lower castes – and widows. A new law, deeply unpopular with conservative Hindus, had just been enacted which allowed widows to remarry. Ancient Hindu religious code allows three options for widows: to marry their husband’s younger brother if his family permits; to commit suicide by throwing themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre; or to withdraw forever to an ashram with other widows to a celibate life of poverty, shunned by the rest of society as ‘unlucky’. A woman’s worth is a reflection of her husband’s and if she no longer has a husband, then she no longer has any value.
Water is set in such an ashram and follows the lives of the widows there: Chuyia, still a homesick child; beautiful Kalyani who dreams of remarriage to Narayan; Madhumati, corrupt ruler of the small community; and Shakuntala, who struggles to reconcile her faith to her circumstances.
This is the third film in director Deepa Mehta’s trilogy about India. The first two films, Fire and Earth, also tackled controversial subjects which angered deeply conservative Hindus. When she tried to make Water in India, she met with abuse, death threats and finally a mob, several thousand strong, that stormed the set and burned it down in protest at the subject matter. It took eight years to complete and she was forced in the end to film it in Sri Lanka. This is still a very emotive issue amongst fundamentalist Hindus who campaigned fiercely to get the film banned in India.
Cast – John Abraham, Lisa Ray, Sarala, Seema Biswas
Deepa Mehta | Canada | 2005 | 118 minutes | 12a
Weighted vote 97.8%