Water (2005 film)

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This article is about the 2005 film. For the article about the British comedy film starring Michael Caine, see Water (1985 film). For the upcoming film, see Paani (film).
Water (2005 film) cover art.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Deepa Mehta
Produced by David Hamilton
Screenplay by Anurag Kashyap
Story by Deepa Mehta
Starring Seema Biswas
Lisa Ray
John Abraham
Sarala Kariyawasam
Music by A. R. Rahman
Mychael Danna (Background Score)
Cinematography Giles Nuttgens
Edited by Colin Monie
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures (US)
Mongrel Media (Canada)
B.R. Films (India)
Release dates
  • 9 September 2005 (2005-09-09)
Running time
114 minutes
Country Canada[1]
United States
Language English
Box office $10,422,387[3]

Water (Hindi: वाटर), is a 2005 Indo-Canadian film written and directed by Deepa Mehta, with screenplay by Anurag Kashyap.[4] 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.[5]

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.

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.[6]


The film is set in the year 1938, when India was still under British occupation. Child marriage was common practice back then. Widows had a diminished position in society, and were expected to spend their lives in poverty and worship of God. Widow remarriages were legalised by the colonial laws, but in practice, they were largely considered taboo.

When Chuyia (Sarala Kariyawasam), a seven-year-old girl, loses her husband, in keeping with traditions of widowhood she is dressed in a coarse white sari, her head is shaven and she is deposited in an ashram for Hindu widows to spend the rest of her life in renunciation. There are fourteen women who live in the small, dilapidated two-story house, sent there to expiate bad karma, as well as to relieve their families of financial and emotional burdens. The ashram is ruled by Madhumati (Manorama), a fat and pompous lady in her 70s. Her only friend is the pimp, Gulabi (Raghuvir Yadav), a sprightly hijra who not only keeps Madhumati supplied with ganja, but also with the latest gossip. The two also have a side business: Gulabi helps Madhumati to prostitute Kalyani (Lisa Ray), the now second-youngest of the widows, by taking her across the water to the customers. Kalyani was forced into prostitution as a child to support the ashram.

Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) is perhaps the most enigmatic of the widows. 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. Quiet and reserved, Shakuntala is caught between her hatred of being a widow and her fear of not being a sincere, dedicated widow. Shakuntala is a very devout Hindu who seeks the counsel of Sadananda (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), a gentle-looking priest in his late forties who recites the scriptures to the pilgrims who throng the ghats of the holy city. It is he who makes Shakuntala aware of her situation, eventually giving her the necessary intellectual input to separate true faith from the hypocrisy and superstition that makes her and the other widows' lives a misery. She's attached to Chuyia, because deprived from her liberties and freedom of choices from a young age, she sees herself reflected in Chuyia; and strives to give her what she lacked.

Chuyia is convinced that her stay is a temporary one, and that her mother will come to take her away. With that thought firmly tucked in her mind and most other widows tolerating the stubborn behaviour in the young girl, she quickly adapts to her new life. Madhumati sternly initiates her into widowhood. Meanwhile, Chuyia befriends the beautiful Kalyani, who is younger and more full of life than other widows at the ashram. She is witness and even agent of Kalyani's budding romance with Narayan (John Abraham), a young and charming upper-class follower of Mahatma Gandhi and of Gandhism. Despite her initial reluctance, Kalyani feels attracted to the young man and eventually buys into his dream of marriage and a fresh life in Calcutta. She eventually agrees to go away with him.

Her plan is disrupted when Chuyia, in her innocence, inadvertently blurts about the secret affair with Narayan while massaging Madhumati one evening. Enraged at losing a source of income and afraid of the imminent social disgrace, Madhumati locks Kalyani up. Much to everyone's surprise, Shakuntala, the usually God-fearing widow, unlocks the door of the hovel and lets Kalyani out to go meet Narayan for the planned rendezvous, and he ferries her across the river to take her home. The journey however, does not culminate in the happy ending that Kalyani had hoped for, as she recognises Narayan's bungalow as that of one of her former clients, and it turns out that Narayan is the son of one of the men she had slept with. In the shock of realisation, she demands that he turn around the boat and take her back. A confrontation with his father reveals to Narayan the reason of Kalyani's sudden change of heart. Disgusted to know the truth, he decides to walk out on his father and join Mahatma Gandhi (Mohan Jhangiani, actor; Zul Vilani, voice). He arrives at the ashram to take Kalyani with him, only to find out that Kalyani has drowned herself in humiliation and grief.

Meanwhile, Madhumati sends Chuyia away with Gulabi, to be prostituted as a replacement for Kalyani for a waiting client (presumably Narayan's friend's father). Shakuntala finds out and runs out to prevent the worst, but she only arrives at the shore in time for Chuyia's return. As a result of being raped, the child is deeply traumatised and practically catatonic. Cradling Chuyia, Shakuntala spends the night sitting at the shore. Walking through town with Chuyia in her arms she hears about Gandhi being at the train station, ready to leave town. Intuitively, she follows the crowd to receive his blessing before his departure. As the train is departing, in an act of despair, Shakuntala runs along the train, asking people to take Chuyia with them, and to put her under the care of Gandhi. She spots Narayan on the train and in a last effort gives Chuyia to him. The train departs leaving teary eyed Shakuntala behind, taking Chuyia into a brighter future.



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.[7]

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[edit]

Date of ceremony Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
25 February 2007 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film 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[8] 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[9] Deepa Mehta Won
20 January 2007 Broadcast Film Critics Best Foreign Language Film Deepa Mehta Nominated
December 17, 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
January 9, 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
December 11, 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
February 7, 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

Critical response[edit]

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.[10]

Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times selected the film 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."[11]

Some critics of the film 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.[12]

The film 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.[13] 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 called the film "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.[14] Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer also praises Mehta's work on 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."


Main article: Water (Soundtrack)


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 the right-wing elements of the Indian polity, 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.[15] Activist Arun Pathak also organised a suicide protest to stop the film production.[16]

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.[15] 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.[15]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Water (2005)". British Film Institute. 
  2. ^ The film was shot twice with the same (bilingual) actors, once in Hindi, once in English.
  3. ^ Water at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 31 October 2009.
  4. ^ http://www.ranker.com/list/scripts-and-screenplays-by-anurag-kashyap/reference
  5. ^ Oscar-nominated film "Water" released in India 7 years after protests shut down filming – International Herald Tribune
  6. ^ Nathan Lee (7 August 2008). "Stigmatized by Society". New York Times. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Deepa Mehta impresses with Water
  8. ^ Utpal Borpujari (2005). "Seema Biswas wins top Canadian film award for Water". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 23 March 2006.  External link in |work= (help)
  9. ^ Patrick Frater (26 February 2006). "Water' sweeps over Bangkok fest". Variety. Retrieved 23 March 2006.  External link in |work= (help)
  10. ^ Thomas, Kevin (2006). "Movie Review: 'Water'", Los Angeles Times, 28 April 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  11. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (28 April 2006). "Movie Review: Water (2005): NYT Critics' Pick". New York Times. 
  12. ^ Kamal Arora, Saydia Kamal and Usamah Ahmad (2005). "Water: Drenched in colonial benevolence", Seven Oaks, 5 October 2005. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  13. ^ "Water". Rotten Tomatoes. 25 September 2006. 
  14. ^ "Water-2006". Roger Ebert. Roger Ebert. 4 May 2006. Retrieved 31 May 2006. 
  15. ^ a b c Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan. "The Politics of Deepa Mehta's Water". Retrieved 8 May 2006. 
  16. ^ "'Water' shooting stopped again, Mehta 'asked to leave Varanasi'". The Hindu. The Hindu Group. 6 February 2000. Retrieved 20 October 2011. 


External links[edit]