Ms. Mehta, please take a bow. You have consistently provided your audiences with cinema of the utmost quality, never once sacrificing your creative genius to appease the forces opposing your goals. Moreover, movies like Fire, 1947-Earth, Bollywood/Hollywood--and now Water--established your prowess as a raconteur and expressed your versatility.
That Water is not an Indian movie is a fact of shame for the Indian Film Industry. The sign of a true democratic and progressive society is the freedom to scrutinize, critique and condemn those customs and traditions that inhibit the development of equality and assimilation of a civilization. Clearly, India has a long way to go. What´s ironic about the film is that it is the year´s best Hindi-language movie (movies like Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi, Black, and My Brother Nikhil were predominantly in English); aside from its subject matter, language, and cast, the movie is anything but Indian--even two of the leads are non-Indian. What´s more, Water is banned in the very nation it attempts to help.
Congratulations for making Water the first non-English or non-French-language movie to open the Toronto International Film Festival, which is an immense achievement given Canada´s cultural politics. Congratulations for making such a brilliant movie that it was voted one of the top ten movies in Canada for 2005. Congratulations for being one of the rare Canadian movies to cross the $1 Million mark. Congratulations and thank you.
Ms. Mehta brings us into the world of those girls and women unfortunate enough to have become widows before India´s independence. Our eyes and ears are those of Chuihya (Sarala), a seven-year-old widow sent to live in an ashram for widows. She encounters the vile head of the widows, Madhumati (Manorma), who exploits the residents. Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) is the only force that occasionally opposes Madhumati´s tyranny. Kalyani (Lisa Ray) is the beautiful young widow who befriends Chuhiya--she is also pimped by Madhumati and the eunuch Gulabi (Raghuveer Yadav). Ironically, she sent to work by crossing the Ganges. Narayan (John Abraham) is a follower of Gandhi who falls in love with Kalyani, regardless of her status as a widow.
Throughout Water, Mehta exposes the cruelties of Hinduism against widows. Chuhiya, in her ignorance, asks all the right questions like "Hum apne ghar kab jaayenge?" or "Aadmi vidhwaah kahan jaate hain? " It is not that Mehta is rejecting Hinduism as a respectable religion. She is merely raising the right questions--she is striving to empower those with the means to help those widows who, till this day, suffer in the same conditions described in the film. No religion is perfect. Each one has a dark past. Hinduism is no different. Whether these injustices are innate to the religion or a by-product of chauvinistic interpretation, one thing is clear: unleashing and relinquishing one of the skeletons in Hinduism´s closet will only enhance the quality of the religion.
"We are very good, as different nations and different cultures, to have a collective amnesia about our own [problems]…[Water] is about three women trying to break that cycle and trying to find dignity, and trying to get rid of the yoke of oppression, and if it inspires people to do something in their own culture, that´s what´s important." (Deepa Mehta, as told to the CBC).
Considered as a film, rather than a "baggage of controversy" (says Mehta herself), Water is superior. The screenplay is crisp and tight. There are not miscellaneous sub plots that divert from the prevailing theme, which is always a bonus. No action completely overt, which makes the experience even more fulfilling. Moreover, the dialogue is engaging, especially those lines in which Narayan deciphers the need for a custom that sentences widows to lives of degradation. Thankfully, the movie is not preachy but speaks volumes on the issue it addresses.
Mychael Danna´s background score is outstanding. A.R. Rahman has composed the Hindi songs in the film. The music blends into the scenes instead of overpowering them like in Mangal Pandey. The cinematography is perfect. The sets are accurately recreated in the picturesque locals of Sri Lanka; special mention goes to the design of the ashram. Direction is, as always, amazing. As a storyteller, Mehta is focused and obviously inspired and passionate. Scenes seem right out of life and she incorporates appropriate light moments well.
Lisa Ray is a complete revelation. Her Hindi has improved leaps and bounds. Not only does she look stunning, but she is convincing as the prostituted widow trained to be submissive. Her self-imposed exile from Bollywood is sad, as one wonders how many movies Deepa Mehta can make to keep this talented actress in the limelight--there is minimal scope for actresses of Indian origin in Canada and Hollywood.
John Abraham is too chic for his role. He´s just one of those people that cannot look average even with the right makeup. But his mannerisms and dialogue delivery are perfect. This is the performance that he should be most proud of.
Seema Biswas, best known for Bandit Queen but also impressive in recent movies like Ek Hasina Thi, is no less spectacular. Her fear, concern, and confidence are ideal and she proves that she is ideal for the role. Even the original choice for Shakuntala (Shabana Azmi) may not have been able to the kind of justice to the role that Biswas has.
Manorma is perfectly vile. After being out of film for a long time, she returns with a bang, playing a character you love to hate. Raghuveer Yadav lends adequate support as the heartless eunuch. Waheeda Rehman is in a small role that could have been played by anyone.
Sarala is the best part of Water. She´s cute, energetic and the perfect choice for the role. In real life, Sarala cannot speak a word of Hindi. Her work in Water is the complete memorization of lines and their phonetic regurgitation. This makes her performance even more profound. What an amazing actress!
This is the perfect end to what could be called the perfect trilogy. Water´s international recognition is not without reason and this can only be verified by experiencing it yourself. The movie is bold and unapologetic for being so. It shows the truth as it is. Water is so real and passionate that you will easily be moved and shocked. Please see this movie. Be freed of ignorance like I was. The world can only benefit from it.