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April 11, 2006 > Water- A Movie Review

Water- A Movie Review

Release: April 28

by Mona Shah

Produced by: David Hamilton
Cast: Lisa Ray, John Abraham, Seema Biswas, and introducing Sarala

With "Water," a subdued but moving and emotionally powerful masterpiece, Toronto-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta ends her elemental trilogy - the other two are "Fire" (1996) and "Earth," (1998) - that deal with cultural and political issues from her native India.

Mehta brings us into a world where women were unfortunate enough to become widows before India's independence. The movie opens with the death of a middle-aged man, followed by young Chuyia (Sarala) being awakened by her father to tell her that she is now a widow, even though the child never remembered being married in the first place. Chuyia (Sarala), an 8-year-old, is forced to live out the rest of her life in penitence, in a home (ashram) for widows. Here she communes with other widows, where she is scorned by some for her spunkiness and cared for by others. She is befriended by the beautiful Kalyani (Lisa Ray), the only widow allowed to keep her long hair because she acts as a prostitute in order to support the ashram, and middle-aged Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) who is at odds with the ashram's vulgar and fat leader Madhumati (Manorama).

Lighter moments in the movie are provided by Chuyia and Kalyani. Together, they encounter an intriguing outsider, Narayan (John Abraham), a wealthy liberal idealist. Embracing the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, he wants India to change, including an end to the barbarism of shunning widows. Narayan falls in love with Kalyani and wants to marry her. Their romance seems too earnest and unconvincing, not quite in step with the rest of the movie. It is hard to understand why he asks her to marry him under such prohibitive circumstances and why she does not reveal her status as a prostitute.

The screenplay is crisp and tight, with no sub-plots that divert from the main theme. No action is completely overt, which leaves the audience to read between the lines. The dialogue is engaging and addresses the issues without being too preachy.

Mychael Danna's background score blends beautifully into the scenes. A.R. Rahman composed the Hindi songs in the film. The cinematography is perfect, with sets accurately recreated in its Sri Lankan locales. As a storyteller, Mehta is focused and her inspiration and passion shine through as she brings the scenes to life.

Mehta had a turbulent ride trying to shoot this period piece and as with some of her previous films, it's a film some would rather not have on display. The Uttar Pradesh government in India withdrew the film's location permits as angry mobs stormed the sets along the holy river Ganges, destroying them and issuing death threats against Mehta. It took her five years to revamp the production and move it to Sri Lanka under an assumed name and under strict secrecy.

Water as the giver and the destroyer...that's the predominant metaphor that cuts through heart of the movie. It is bold and unapologetic, and it moved and shocked me. See this movie; it leaves you with hope and a lot of misgivings.

Primarily in Hindi with English subtitles.

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