Reviewed by: Chris

There is only a tiny scene in this film in which Mahatma Gandhi appears. He is seated at Rawalpur railway station among the assembled crowds, giving darshan. Eventually he speaks: "I used to think that God is truth," he tells them, "now I know that truth is God." Those few moments are more powerful than many less films that have devoted their whole story to his life.

Director Deepa Mehta has a great advantage putting such statements on celluloid: she was born inIndia, became a philosophy graduate there, but married and has lived in the West, returning to India to make films. She produces work that carries authentic insight into Indian thought and way of life, but can present it in a way that reaches the ears, eyes and minds of Western filmgoers.

Copy picture

Water, the third in a trilogy that started with a heartbreaking journey through the India-Pakistan Partition in Earth, returns to the period of colonial rule. Filled with rich photography, song the film also features a love story that will make the most stony-hearted weep and uses the emotion generated to drive home a message against oppression. There are two central themes in Water. One is a Romeo and Juliet story and the other concerns the oppression of widows who, even to this day, are encouraged to remain 'faithful' to their husbands even when widowed.

The movie opens in the Indian countryside. Gradually we move from the lush flora to an ox-drawn cart. It bears a sick man, and a young child sits near his feet, playfully teasing his ankles. Shortly afterwards, the child Chuyia (Sarala) is told her 'husband' is dead and that she is now a widow. Too young to understand that widowhood is generally for life, she asks her father, how long for? To prevent unfaithfulness, she is dumped off at a charity home for widows.

Regarded as 'polluted,' she has her hair shaved off and is forbidden to re-marry. Chuyia makes friends with Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a beautiful young widow who breaks the rules by falling in love with the educated, speccy young Narayan (John Abraham). The audience is gunning for them after a short period of illicit wooing, conscious of the risk they run in the face of social and religious taboos. Music kicks in to heighten the romantic tension (be warned: if you haven't brought a box of tissues run and get some now).

The year is 1938. New thinking is permeating India, both from western freethinkers and from Gandhi with his notion of 'passive resistance'. Women's emancipation is still wishful thinking of the punishable kind: "Where is the house for men widows?" asks Chuyia innocently. The other women are shocked beyond belief, saying she should have her tongue cut off and thrown in the river. Narayan's family are equally discouraging. They want him to marry a 'pure' woman in best tradition, not some second-hand lowlife who will bring disgrace on the family.

Visually awesome, panoramic, brilliantly acted and bursting with beautiful poetry and imagery. It features a sublime romance with a kick to the head you won't forget, and for which Mehta suffered threats to life and the burning of her film sets by Hindu extremists. The endnotes use 21st century statistics to point out that millions of women are still living under archaic oppression. This an epic to enjoy and mull over.

Reviewed on: 08 Sep 2006
Share this with others on...
Water packshot
The final part of Mehta's elementary trilogy about India.
Amazon link

Director: Deepa Mehta

Writer: Deepa Mehta

Starring: Lisa Ray, Sarala, Buddhi Wickrama, Rinsly Weerarathne, Iranganie Serasinghe, Hermantha Gamage, Ronica Sajnani, Manorama, Rishma Malik, Seema Biswas, Vidula Javalgekar

Year: 2005

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: Canada, India

Search database: