Water (2005 film)

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Film poster
Directed byDeepa Mehta
Screenplay byAnurag Kashyap
Story byDeepa Mehta
Produced byDavid Hamilton
StarringSeema Biswas
Lisa Ray
John Abraham
Sarala Kariyawasam
CinematographyGiles Nuttgens
Edited byColin Monie
Music byScore:
Mychael Danna
A. R. Rahman
David Hamilton Productions
Distributed byMongrel Media (Canada)
Fox Searchlight Pictures (United States)
B.R. Films (India)
Release date
  • 9 September 2005 (2005-09-09) (Toronto)
Running time
114 minutes
United States
Box office$10.4 million[2]

Water (Hindi: जल, romanizedJal) is a 2005 drama 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 India. The film is also the third and final installment 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 child marriage, misogyny and ostracism.[3] 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.[4] It was first released in India on 9 March 2007.[5]

The film stars Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham and Sarala Kariyawasam in pivotal roles and Manorama, 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. After Rahman quit the film following nationwide controversy,[6] the background score was composed by Mychael Danna, although the songs which Rahman had composed before opting out were retained.

In 2008, inspired by the film, Dilip Mehta directed a documentary, The Forgotten Woman about widows in India. The film was also written by Deepa Mehta.[7]

Water was announced as Canada's submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film at the 79th Academy Awards, it was nominated, but it did not win.


In 1938 India, 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 the 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 ferrying her across the Ganges 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. 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 upon her arrival at the ashram.

Chuyia is convinced that her stay is a temporary one and that her mother will come to take her away but quickly adapts to her new life. She befriends Kalyani, and witnesses 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 accidentally reveals their 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, who ferries her across the river to take her to his home. However, when Kalyani recognizes Narayan's bungalow, she realizes 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. Narayan confronts his father, learning the reason for Kalyani's actions. 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 that Kalyani has drowned herself.

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. When Shakuntala finds Chuyia, Chuyia is deeply traumatized and catatonic. Cradling Chuyia, Shakuntala spends the night on the shores of the river. Walking through town with Chuyia in her arms, she hears talk of Gandhi speaking at the train station, ready to leave town. She follows the crowd to receive his blessing. As the train departs, in an act of desperation Shakuntala runs alongside the train, asking people to take Chuyia with them. She spots Narayan on the train and hands Chuyia over to him. The train departs, carrying Chuyia away while leaving the teary-eyed Shakuntala behind.



Water is a co-production between Canada, India[9] and the United States.[10] The film was shot twice with the same (bilingual) actors, once in Hindi, once in English.[citation needed]



The film debuted on 8 September 2005 at the Toronto International Film Festival. 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.[11]


Box office[edit]

During Sri Lanka screening, the film collected Rs. 42 million for its 38 days screening.[12]

Critical response[edit]

Water received mostly positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 91% based on reviews from 96 critics, with an average rating 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".[13] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 77 out of 100, based on 25 critics reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[14]

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 the British colonial 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 humor in her stunningly perceptive and beautifully structured narrative. Water emerges as a film of extraordinary richness and complexity.[15]

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".[16]

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.[17] 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".[citation needed]

In December 2005, it was named to the Toronto International Film Festival's annual Canada's Top Ten list of the year's best Canadian films.[18]


Date of ceremony Award Category Recipients Result
25 February 2007 79th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film (Canada) Deepa Mehta Nominated
13 March 2006 Genie Awards or Canadian Screen Awards Best Motion Picture David Hamilton Nominated
Best Director Deepa Mehta Nominated
Best Actress Seema Biswas[19] Won
Best Art and Production Design Dilip Mehta Nominated
Best Cinematography Giles Nuttgens Won
Best Screenplay Deepa Mehta Nominated
Best Film Editing Colin Monie Nominated
Best Original Score Mychael Danna Won
17 February 2006 Bangkok International Film Festival Best Golden Kinnaree Film[20] Deepa Mehta Won
20 January 2007 Broadcast Film Critics Best Foreign Language Film Deepa Mehta Nominated
17 December 2007 Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Deepa Mehta Nominated
23 June 2007 Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Best Non-European Director Deepa Mehta Nominated
9 January 2007 National Board of Review Top 5 Foreign Language Films Deepa Mehta Won
NBR Freedom of Expression Awards Deepa Mehta (shared with Oliver Stone for World Trade Center) Won
11 December 2006 New York Film Critics Online Top 10 Films Deepa Mehta Won
NYFCO Humanitarian Award Deepa Mehta Won
14 October 2006 Oslo Films from the South Festival Best Silver Mirror Feature Film Deepa Mehta Won
20 March 2006 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival Best Narrative Audience Award Deepa Mehta Won
17 December 2006 Satellite Awards Best Foreign Language Film Deepa Mehta Nominated
21 October 2005 Valladolid International Film Festival Best Youth Jury Film – In Competition Deepa Mehta Won
Best Golden Spike Film – In Competition Deepa Mehta Nominated
7 February 2006 Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Canadian director Deepa Mehta Won
Best Canadian Actress Lisa Ray Won
10 March 2007 Young Artist Awards Best Leading Young Actress in a Feature Film Sarala Kariyawasam Won
Best International Family Feature Film Deepa Mehta Won


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.[21] A right-wing politician Arun Pathak also organised a suicide protest to stop the film production.[22]

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.[21] 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.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The film was shot twice with the same (bilingual) actors, once in Hindi, once in English.
  2. ^ Water at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 31 October 2009.
  3. ^ "'Water' at Majestic Cinema". Sarasaviya. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  4. ^ "Water opens Toronto Film Festival". 9 September 2005. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  5. ^ "Oscar-nominated film "Water" released in India 7 years after protests shut down filming". Iht.com. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  6. ^ "Rahman ready for Lord of the Rings". Rediff.com. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  7. ^ Nathan Lee (7 August 2008). "Stigmatized by Society". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  8. ^ "'Water' takes Sarala to international heights". Sarasaviya. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  9. ^ "Water". Metacritic. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  10. ^ "Water (2005)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 13 July 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Deepa Mehta impresses with Water". Rediff.com. 9 March 2007.
  12. ^ "'Water' in a record flow". Sunday times. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  13. ^ "Water". Rotten Tomatoes. 25 September 2006.
  14. ^ "Water". Metacritic.com. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  15. ^ Thomas, Kevin (2006). "Movie Review: 'Water'", Los Angeles Times, 28 April 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2010. Archived 12 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (28 April 2006). "Movie Review: Water (2005): NYT Critics' Pick". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Water-2006". Roger Ebert. Chicago Sun-Times. 4 May 2006. Retrieved 31 May 2006.
  18. ^ "Topping the list: Canada's cinematic achievements". National Post, 14 December 2005.
  19. ^ Utpal Borpujari (2005). "Seema Biswas wins top Canadian film award for Water". Deccan Herald. Archived from the original on 17 March 2006. Retrieved 23 March 2006.
  20. ^ Patrick Frater (26 February 2006). "Water' sweeps over Bangkok fest". Variety. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  21. ^ a b c Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan. "The Politics of Deepa Mehta's Water". Retrieved 8 May 2006.
  22. ^ "'Water' shooting stopped again, Mehta 'asked to leave Varanasi'". The Hindu. The Hindu Group. 6 February 2000. Archived from the original on 6 September 2012. Retrieved 20 October 2011.


External links[edit]