film - Water
Based on sacred Hindu texts, when a woman's husband dies, there are three choices:
1. She can burn to death on a funeral pyre.
2. She can marry her husband's younger brother
3. She can live a chaste life, of purity, as a widow, never to remarry.
Chuyia, a 7 or 8 year-old girl is taken to an ashram (secluded residence of a religious community and its guru) by her father, to spend the rest of her life in a life of purity, due to the death of her husband. She is awaken one morning and asked if she remembered getting married, to which she answers no. Her "husband" appears to be some 30-something guy. She is told that she is in a period of mourning, but she doesn't feel anything. She's just a child who never had adult relations with this husband.
At the ashram, a house with a courtyard and several rooms, there lives a collection of women, mostly older, who live with close-cropped hair and dour looks on their faces. Some were "married" long before they were teenagers but they were banished to this ashram once they became widowers. One of the women is the boss and acts as madam to the one widow who is also the lone prostitute; leader
most of the women and surrogate mother to Chuyia.
One of the women in the ashram is beautiful 35 year-old Kalyani (Canadian Lisa Ray, last seen in Bollywood Hollywood) who supports the household by working as a prostitute in the evening. The other women mostly shun her. One day, the Chuyia races into the streets to chase after Kalyani's escaped puppy and she stumbles across handsome young, liberal-minded new law school grad Narayana (John Abraham.) Naturally, he falls for Kalyani, against the wishes of his mother who finds it crazy for someone to marry a widow. But, what should have been a happy ending, ends up with scenes of tragedy. I won't mention his liberal-minded father who seems innocuous but really isn't, as the the film later shows.
Like many other Indian films, there is a parallel story surrounding the rise of Gandhi, hero to all Indians regardless of religious or cultural affiliation, who is let out of jail by the British and makes a brief appearance as his train passes through town.
Today, there are 34 million widows in India, and many of them live in poverty and depravity, due to their sometimes forced adherence to the traditional Hindu practices. This, even though laws were passed in the 1930's supporting remarriage for widows.
Water is a bitter-sweet film about a deeply tragic practice.. Canadian director Deepa Mehta experieced much opposition from traditionalists in India when she tried to film it in certain locations. There's one implied scene that you don't thankfully don't see that is absolutely disgusting and morally revolting. The acting is solid and almost too convincing. You get the feeling you are watching a documentry at times.
I applaud the director, whose film credits at the end of Water are laced with Canadian film and broadcasting institutions as supporters, for having the bravery to make this very controversial film. Mainstream audiences will find it too slow to make it as palatable as what most of us are used to.