Directed by Deepa Mehta
Written by Anurag Kashyap (dialog), Deepa Mehta.
Starring Sarala Kariawasam, Manorama, Raghuvir Yadav, Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, John Abraham
I love watching films made by different cultures, especially those that show new aspects of the human condition. Water deals with life in India in 1938, portraying a part of that culture that is ripe for tragic stories.
Chuyia (Sarala Kariawasam) is a seven-year-old child bride, who learns that her husband has died, leaving her a widow. Culture requires she leave the community and live with other widows, similarly dumped by their families. Madhumati (Manorama) runs the widows’ ashram, smoking ganga and making money by prostituting the next youngest widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray). Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) has trouble dealing with her hatred of being a widow and her need to obey social strictures. Meanwhile, Narayan (John Abraham), a follower of Gandhi, starts a romance with Kalyani, who used Chuvia to help them keep it secret.
The sadness of Chuvia’s life is at center stage, and Kariawasm does an excellent job as a child forced into a life she can’t quite understand.* The rest of the story is powerful and tragic – though with a touch of hope at the end.
The film’s production was troubled. Mehta had already created controversy with the right wing in India, and the shooting of the film led to violent protests, including the destruction of the film’s sets. Mehta dropped the production for several years, finally moving to Sri Lanka and giving it a false name.
The film was a success, garnering it an Oscar nomination.** It’s a fascinating look into a dark side of the history of India.
*She didn’t speak either English or Hindi, but managed to learn the language on the fly.
**Representing Canada, which took advantage in a change of Oscar rules, since Mehta lives in Toronta.