Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Deepa Mehta’s darling of the festival circuit, Water, has finally hit screens accessible to us common folk. It’s a very touching and surprisingly wonderful film. It’s almost sneaky in the way it takes us down unexpected paths. It’s a story that involves Colonial oppression, institutionalized sexism, unfair religious rites, sexual slavery, suicide, forbidden romance, and loss of innocence without, well, losing its own innocence.


            1938, 7-year-old Chuyia (Sarala) has been quickly married, and just as quickly widowed by a disease. Widows are forced to live cloistered away in poverty in what essentially amounts to prisons. They can only make a living either begging, or selling the “services” of the younger, better-looking widows. Chuyia refuses to acclimatize herself to her new oppressive surroundings, held strictly in place by the strong arm of the widows’ über-matron. Chuyia’s outright refusal to live like a slave inadvertently inspires other widows to seek something better. Luckily, this is about the time in India’s history when Gandhi was making rounds, so some of the freedoms afforded widows are growing. So the young whore for the convent (Lisa Ray) finds a new love with a local liberal-thinker (John Abraham), an aging auntie (Vidula Javalgekar) finally sneaks some forbidden candy, and a hard-nosed holy-woman (Khulbhushan Kharbanda)  begins to doubt the traditions she so dearly held. Along the way, there are some unforeseen tragedies that I will not reveal, but the final acts of the film shine in their daring. The titular water refers not only to the Ganges, but the role that water plays in holy cleansing rites as well as the importance of the simple joy of bathing.


            The film is indeed daring; Mehta shot the film in Sri Lanka, as the Indian government would not allow her permission to shoot so radical a story in the actual Ganges. The film still has a patently Indian feel about it, i.e. obnoxious Hindi pop songs paired with occasional bouts of Bollywood super-melodrama. And the story, for the first half-hour anyway, feels a bit cheesy. Luckily the film is able to work its way past these problems and present us with something very, very good.

 -April 28th, Fox Searchlight

Published in: on March 29, 2008 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  

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