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Water (Hindi: वाटर), is a 2005 Canadian film directed by Deepa Mehta and written by Anurag Kashyap, who also did the dialogue translation. It is set in 1938 and explores the lives of widows at an ashram in Varanasi, India. The film is also the third part of Mehta's Elements trilogy. It was preceded by Fire (1996) and Earth (1998). Author Bapsi Sidhwa wrote the 2006 novel based upon the film, Water: A Novel, published by Milkweed Press. Sidhwa's earlier novel, Cracking India was the basis for Earth, the second film in the trilogy. Water, though cast in a gloomy backdrop, is a highly intelligent film which tells the pathetic tales of Indian widows in the 1940s. However with the film covertly studies the hypocrisy of societies that eventually seeks to contort the truth of religion to suit the selfish interest of the elite few. The film premiered at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was honoured with the Opening Night Gala, and was released across Canada in November of that year. It was first released in India on 9 March 2007.
Chuyia (Sarala) is nine years old and has just lost her husband. If that doesn't creep you out enough, peep this: Widows, in Hindu culture, were sent to an ashram where they would live till their last day. It's 1930, so this ideology is still commonly considered the norm. Chuyia immediately bonds with a loner in the group, Kalyani (the radiant Lisa Ray), who hides a puppy in her hut and breaks many other rules of the ashram. One day, when the puppy runs away, they both run into Narayan (John Abraham), a handsome gentleman with glasses and a penchant for Ghandi. Narayan is persistent in his courting of Kalyani, who by Hindu tradition can not date or get remarried. Finally, she caves in and agrees to marry him, but after the agreement, a strange punch of faith hits her and things get gloomy.
Underneath all the ritual and religion, Water is a simple love vs. faith story. Kalyani is soft spoken in her rebellious nature, but she does believe what Hinduism teaches the women. Her friend Shakuntala (a superb Seema Biswas), works in opposite fashion as she is first held down by belief but then opens up to belief in freedom, brought to a head when she witnesses Ghandi speaking at a train station. Mehta orchestrates these clashes of ideology deftly, especially the side plot involving Gulabi, a man who pimps out the widows to rich men, and the head mistress, Madhumati (Manorma). The love story is simple enough to work and engage the audience, but the real winner here is Mehta and Giles Nuttgens, the cinematographer. Together, they create a luminous world around the controversial lifestyle and rituals of these women.
Coming into Mehta's 'Elemental Trilogy' a novice, I find that her skill at direction far exceeds her writing ability. Although no line sticks out as awkward or painful, there's nothing to really remember in the language either. The film lingers in your memory for those clear, concise images, like the rain outside Kalyani's hut that seems to be constantly falling. Hindu fundamentalists will be up in arms, no doubt, but the film is artful in showing the positive side of belief and the negative responses to freedom and free thinking. In other words, it is definitely worth putting off that sock arrangement for one more day.
DVD extras include a commentary track and some making-of footage.
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