Thursday, February 1, 2007

Water - A Review

It is perhaps a reflection of our intolerance that ‘Water’, a film that deals with the subject of widow remarriage and directed by Deepa Mehta was not allowed to be released in India. Sadly, the commendable work has so far remained out of the reach of the Indian masses – which it was supposedly targeted at.

The shooting of the film was obstructed at the banks of the Ganges and the crew had to move to Sri Lanka where it was almost entirely filmed. The media was all appreciative of Deepa once the movie made it to the final five of the Oscar nominees list in the foreign language category. I wonder how many Indians have seen the movie and feel it is fit to bag the coveted award that has remained elusive to India, though if it does manage to win, it will be as a nominee from Canada.

I am no seasoned reviewer but then I sincerely feel that the movie has nothing offensive or objectionable and on the contrary, every avid moviegoer should see this work.

Recently in a special edition of India Today, I came to know that around 1984, a special team of reporters was assigned the task of writing about the appalling conditions of hundreds of widows in Varanasi who had been neglected by their families. They were living in abject poverty and the less said about their living conditions, the better. In the name of obeying age old laws, their families had abandoned them and left them to fend for themselves.

Ours, being a patriarchal society, it is only now that working women are not frowned at and slowly women are gaining their rightful place in the society. It would perhaps take years for them to break several existing myths that the society imposes on them. So much for the western influence!

It is in this context that Water becomes all the more importantly a film that should be seen by Indians to be able to know the double standards of our society when it comes to treatment of womenfolk. I salute the crew of Water for coming out with a brave and praiseworthy attempt.

The film opens with the laws of Manu and immediately one knows that this is not a run of the mill commercial flick. The setting is India – 1938.

A child, chuyia (played by debutant Sarala) of around 8-10 years is led to a widow ashram by her own father and she silently goes through the trauma of having her hair removed. After an initial period of believing that she will be rescued by her mother, she reconciles herself to the harsh reality.

Throughout the film, Sarala impresses the viewer with her excellent acting. Be it the scenes warranting expressions of innocence, playful childishness, amusement, friendly bonding, amazement, resignation, happiness, mild anger.. – Sarala scores everywhere. Shakuntala (played by Seema Biswas) is introduced as being seemingly strict with Sarala, but she effortlessly nurtures affection on the child.

Kalyani (played by Lisa Ray) looks stunningly beautiful and takes an instant liking to the child. The scene in which Narayan (played by John Abraham) is introduced has been beautifully conceived. He is shown as one who is sensible enough to see the real picture and wanting to give Kalyani a better life. The scenes where he tries to make Kalyani understand the cruelty of her own position could not have been better filmed.

Certain sequences leave the viewer with tears in his eyes. That which stands out is the one in which Chuyia asks where the ashram for male widows is…

As the film progresses, one gets to see the ignorance and hopelessness that are intertwined in the lives of the widows and almost make them feel justified about their state.

The song ‘aayo re sajan’ rendered by Sukhwinder Singh to AR Rahman’s music stands out. The costumes perfectly suit the subject and the time.

Kalyani tries her best to escape her plight but that is rendered impossible by a startling revelation. Narayan loses faith and decides to join the nationalist movement led by Gandhi. Revealing more about the film would be meaningless.

The film concludes by reminding the viewer that there are 34 million windows in India according to the 2000 census and that many continue to live in conditions of deprivation.

Now, we are seeing working women who are confident and are ready to take up any challenge. But what about those who still believe in different laws for man and women and there are doubtless many people like them in our country, but sadly they don’t catch the eye of the media and the press and rarely is their plight told…

Whether ‘Water’ manages to win an Oscar or not is immaterial. What is urgently needed is openness at the heart of every Indian to address some important questions earnestly.

Thank you, Deepa Mehta.