Water is the last installment of writer-director Deepa Mehta's Elemental Trilogy, the first two being Fire (1996) and Earth (1998), of which I did not have the opportunity to watch on the big screen. But no matter, I'm glad I did watch this. For those who have this misconception that all Hindi movies are loud, boisterous and full of dance energy, perhaps this movie will change your mind (ok, so it isn't from your regular Bollywood movie-mill). Water is quiet and extremely meditative, which is quite surprising as it takes on controversial themes like religion.
The "Sacred text of Manu" dictates a few choices for Hindu widows - to marry the dead husband's younger brother, to cremate herself together with her dead husband, or to live a life of celibacy and self-denial amongst women in the same fate. We follow one of Water's protagonist, the child bride Chuyia (Sarala), as she enters a new phase of life at "The Widow's House" in the holy city of Banaras, given the demise of her spouse. Not one who follows the rules (hey, she's only a child), she finds herself rebelling against the system, and finding friendship in widows Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), and the gorgeous Kalyani (Lisa Ray), of whom the story also puts the spotlight on, in her love with Narayan (John Abraham).
Naturally, if you look at the religious laws in which the women are subjected to, and the movie's depiction of the marginalizing of these women's lives, it is no surprise that the production was interrupted with protests, and had to shoot in Sri Lanka. There is a lack of freedom, and plenty of restriction, and they are not permitted to love another, and in Chuyia's case, probably is condemned to living out her life all alone, save for the friendship amongst the community. But what also raised eyebrows, is how these women are exploited for sex by those in power and with money.
I thought the love between Kalyani and Narayan was one trying against the odds, and it's bittersweet in development, as you root for them to be together despite the insurmountable challenges that they face. And you'll call into question the rationale behind those obstacles, as well as seethe in anger at the obvious exploitation so close to home. Their love is within the historical context of the winds of change within India, led by the return of Mohandas Gandhi in his movement of non violent struggle, of civil disobedience. There are those who enjoy the status quo of having the British rule over them, and there are those who don't. Similarly, this is in contrast with the widows who yearn for a change, but have no choice given circumstances and the acceptance of their fate because of their faith, and of the lovers being denied opportunity, as you root for the change to be soon.
With plenty of beautiful cinematic shots, and complemented with the excellent music of the renowned A R Rahman, Water has just whet my appetite to go and hunt down the other movies in the Elemental trilogy, as well as to get my hands on other Deepa Mehta movies, most notably, Bollywood Hollywood, which also stars Lisa Ray :-)