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WATER

Director: DEEPA MEHTA

CANADA-INDIA • 2005 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 114 MIN


FUNDAMENTALIST PROTESTORS MAY HAVE SHUT DOWN PRODUCTION AT ONE STAGE, BUT DEEPA MEHTA’S PERSEVERANCE HAS RESULTED IN THIS DEFIANT AND MOVING PORTRAIT OF THE UNJUST TREATMENT OF WIDOWS IN INDIA’S HINDU COMMUNITIES.
Having already courted controversy with the first two parts of her ‘elemental’ trilogy, Fire and Earth, her first attempt to shoot Water in India back in 2000 was abandoned after riots threatened the safety of cast and crew, but the resilient writer-director decamped to Sri Lanka and was able to complete her task some five years later. The wait has definitely been worth it, since this story of a group of widows—rendered virtual outcasts, consigned to white robes and forbidden to remarry—although set in 1938 at the time of Gandhi’s anti-colonial crusade, reminds us that the freedoms that Gandhi envisaged for his country haven’t been fully realised even today.
In Mehta’s story, years of confinement to an ashram are all that middle-aged Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), youthful Kalyani (Lisa Ray)—who’s prostituted out in order to pay for the widows’ bed and board—and uncomprehending eight year-old Chuyia (Sarala), sole survivor of an arranged marriage, have to look forward to. When the lovely Kalyani attracts the attention of a radical Brahmin lawyer (John Abraham), their love represents the possibility of escape, but facing down entrenched traditions could come with a heavy price. Mehta’s message is clear, yet all the more powerful for being cloaked in a film of ravishing visual beauty and keening romantic ardour —Trevor Johnston.

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