Water (2005 film)
|Directed by||Deepa Mehta|
|Produced by||David Hamilton|
|Screenplay by||Anurag Kashyap|
|Story by||Deepa Mehta|
|Music by||Mychael Danna|
|Edited by||Colin Monie|
Fox Searchlight Pictures (US)|
Mongrel Media (Canada)
B.R. Films (India)
Water is a 2005 Indo-Canadian film written and directed by Deepa Mehta, with screenplay by Anurag Kashyap. It is set in 1938 and explores the lives of widows at an ashram in Varanasi, India. The film is also the third and final instalment 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 is a dark introspect into the tales of rural Indian widows in the 1940s and covers controversial subjects such as misogyny and ostracism. 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.
The film stars Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham, and Sarala Kariyawasam in pivotal roles and Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Waheeda Rehman, Raghuvir Yadav, and Vinay Pathak in supporting roles. Featured songs for the film were composed by A. R. Rahman, with lyrics by Sukhwinder Singh and Raqeeb Alam while the background score was composed by Mychael Danna. Cinematography is by Giles Nuttgens, who has worked with Deepa Mehta on several of her films.
The film is set in the year 1938, when India was still under British occupation. Child marriages were common practice and widows had a diminished position in society.
Chuyia (Sarala Kariyawasam) is an eight-year-old girl, whose husband suddenly dies. In keeping with traditions of widowhood, she is dressed in a white sari, her head is shaven and she is left in an ashram, to spend the rest of her life in renunciation. There are fourteen women who live in the dilapidated house, sent there to expiate bad karma, as well as to relieve their families of financial and emotional burdens of caring for widows. The ashram is ruled by Madhumati (Manorama), a pompous lady in her 70s. Her only friend is the pimp, Gulabi (Raghuvir Yadav), a hijra who keeps Madhumati supplied with cannabis. The two also have a side business: Gulabi helps Madhumati prostitute Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a beautiful young widow, by taking her across the lake to customers. Kalyani was forced into prostitution as a teenager to support the ashram.
Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) is perhaps the most enigmatic of the women. She is attractive, witty and sharp. She is also one of the few widows who can read. She exudes enough anger that even Madhumati leaves her alone. Shakuntala is caught between being a God-fearing, devout Hindu, and her hatred of being a widow. She seeks the counsel of Sadananda (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), a priest, who makes her aware of her unjust and unholy situation. She becomes attached to Chuyia because she sees herself reflected in the little girl; she strives to give Chuyia what she lacked.
Chuyia is convinced that her stay is a temporary one, and that her mother will come to take her away, and so quickly adapts to her new life. She befriends Kalyani, who is more full of life than the other widows. She is witness of Kalyani's budding romance with Narayan (John Abraham), a charming upper-class follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Despite her initial reluctance, Kalyani eventually buys into his dream of marriage and a new life in Calcutta. She agrees to go away with him.
Her plan is disrupted when Chuyia inadvertently blurts about the secret affair to Madhumati. Enraged at losing a source of income and afraid of the social disgrace, Madhumati locks Kalyani up. Much to everyone's surprise, the God-fearing Shakuntala lets Kalyani out to go meet Narayan, and he ferries her across the lake to take her to his home. The journey however, does not culminate in the happy ending that Kalyani had hoped for, as she recognises Narayan's bungalow, and it turns out that Narayan is the son of one of the men whom she has been pimped out to. In shock, she demands that he take her back. A confrontation with his father reveals to Narayan the reason of Kalyani's behavior. Disgusted, he decides to walk out on his father and join Mahatma Gandhi (Mohan Jhangiani). He arrives at the ashram to take Kalyani with him, only to find out that Kalyani has fatally drowned herself due to disillusionment and grief.
Madhumati sends Chuyia away to be prostituted as a replacement for Kalyani. Shakuntala finds out and tries to prevent the worst, but she is too late. As a result of being raped, Chuyia is deeply traumatised and catatonic. Cradling Chuyia, Shakuntala spends the night at the shore. Walking through town with Chuyia in her arms she hears about Gandhi being at the train station, ready to leave town. She follows the crowd to receive his blessing. As the train is departing, in an act of despair, Shakuntala runs along the train, asking people to take Chuyia with them. She spots Narayan on the train and gives Chuyia to him. The train departs, leaving teary-eyed Shakuntala behind, taking Chuyia into a brighter future.
- Seema Biswas as Shakuntala/ Gyanvati Twins double role
- Lisa Ray as Kalyani (Mona Ghosh Shetty as the Hindi dubbing voice)
- John Abraham as Narayan
- Waheeda Rehman as Bhagavati, Narayan's Mother
- Sarala Kariyawasam as Chuyia
- Buddhi Wickrama as Baba
- Ronica Sajnani as Kunti
- Manorama as Madhumati
- Rishma Malik as Snehalata
- Seema Biswas as Gyanvati
- Vidula Javalgekar as Patiraji (auntie)
- Daya Alwis as Saduram
- Raghuvir Yadav as Gulabi
- Vinay Pathak as Rabindra
- Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Sadananda
- Gerson Da Cunha as Seth Dwarkanath
- Mohan Jhangiani as Mahatma Gandhi (voiceover by Zul Vilani)
The film debuted on 8 September 2005 at the Toronto International Film Festival and opened in other theatres at the dates given below. After several controversies surrounding the film in India, the Indian censor boards cleared the film with a "U" certificate. It was released in India on 9 March 2007.
|Region||Release date||Festival or Distributor|
|Canada||8 September 2005||Mongrel Media|
|USA||2 October 2005||South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival|
|Spain||2 October 2005||Valladolid International Film Festival|
|Canada||4 November 2005|
|Australia||13 April 2006||Dendy Films|
|USA||19 April 2006||Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles|
|USA||26 April 2006||Indianapolis International Film Festival|
|USA||28 April 2006||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
|Switzerland||15 August 2006||Filmcoopi Zurich AG|
|India||9 March 2007||B.R. Films|
Awards and nominations
The film received high praise from Kevin Thomas, writing in the Los Angeles Times:
For all her impassioned commitment as a filmmaker, Mehta never preaches but instead tells a story of intertwining strands in a wholly compelling manner. "Water," set in British occupied India of 1938, is as beautiful as it is harrowing, its idyllic setting beside the sacred Ganges River contrasting with the widows' oppressive existence as outcasts. The film seethes with anger over their plight yet never judges, and possesses a lyrical, poetical quality. Just like the Ganges, life goes on flowing, no matter what. Mehta sees her people in the round, entrapped and blinded by a cruel and outmoded custom dictated by ancient religious texts but sustained more often by a family's desire to relieve itself of the economic burden of supporting widows. As a result, she is able to inject considerable humour in her stunningly perceptive and beautifully structured narrative. "Water" emerges as a film of extraordinary richness and complexity.
Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times selected Water as NYT Critics' Pick, calling it "exquisite": "Serene on the surface yet roiling underneath, the film neatly parallels the plight of widows under Hindu fundamentalism to that of India under British colonialism."
Some critics have argued that Mehta overlooks the complex politics of post-colonial India in her films and reinforces Orientalist and racist stereotypes about the "exotic" and "strange" nature of Indian culture.
Water received mostly positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 91% of 90 professional critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.6 out of 10. The site's consensus is that "This compassionate work of social criticism is also luminous, due to both its lyrical imagery and cast." On Metacritic which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 reviews from critic, the film has a "universal acclaim" rating score of 77 based on 25 critics reviews. On IMDB it has a user ratings of 7.8 out of 10 by 10, 801 users.
Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times said "The film is lovely in the way Satyajit Ray's films are lovely and the best elements of Water involve the young girl and the experiences seen through her eyes. I would have been content if the entire film had been her story" and gave it three stars out of four. Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer also praises Mehta's work on the trilogy saying that "Profound, passionate and overflowing with incomparable beauty, Water, like the prior two films in director Deepa Mehta's "Elements" trilogy, celebrates the lives of women who resist marginalisation by Indian society."
Mehta had originally intended to direct Water in February 2000, with the actors Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Akshay Kumar. Her earlier film, Fire, however, had previously attracted hostility from conservative right-wing organizations, which objected to her subject matter and portrayal of conservative households in a negative light. Protestors organised protests and attacks on cinemas that screened that film. The day before filming of Water was due to begin, the crew was informed that there were complications with their location permits for filming. The following day, they learned that 2,000 protesters had stormed the ghats, destroying and burning the main film set and throwing the remnants into the Ganges in protest of what ultimately were revealed to be false accusations regarding the subject matter of the film. Activist Arun Pathak also organised a suicide protest to stop the film production.
The resulting tensions and economic setbacks led to several years of struggle as Mehta was eventually forced to film Water in Sri Lanka, rather than in India. Finally Mehta was able to make the film, but with a new cast and under a false title (River Moon) in 2003. The struggle to make the film was detailed by Mehta's daughter, Devyani Saltzman, in a non-fiction book, Shooting Water: A Mother-Daughter Journey and the Making of the Film.
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- Thomas, Kevin (2006). "Movie Review: 'Water'", Los Angeles Times, 28 April 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
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- "'Water' shooting stopped again, Mehta 'asked to leave Varanasi'". The Hindu. The Hindu Group. 6 February 2000. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
- Saltzman, Devyani (2006). Shooting Water: A Mother-daughter Journey and the Making of a Film. Penguin Books India. ISBN 978-0-14-400102-6.
- Displacing Androcracy: Cosmopolitan Partnerships in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Water