Monday, August 10, 2009


Of the 20 films that I watched in my international film class, Water by Deepa Mehta is clearly one of my favorites along with Children of Men. Mehta is a controversial, Canadian-Indian, female director. Many of her feminist films address issues in Indian culture including Water which is part of her elemental trilogy.

Water is about widows in India. By Hindu tradition, when a wife becomes a widow, she has "to spend the rest of her life in an institution for widows called a widow's ashram in order to make amends for the sins from her previous life which supposedly caused her husband's death," as explained best by Wikipedia. Mehta brings the viewers to this absurd, harsh, and impoverished ashram as Chuiya, a young eight year old, becomes a widow due to the death of her husband.

Chuiya is thrown into this world that she does not understand. She is harshly treated by the master of the ashram who is obese, mean, and self-centered. As laws of widowhood, Chuiya's hair is shaved; a white sari becomes the only thing she can wear; she can no longer eat fried and sweet food; and she has to depend on alms from strangers. Worse yet, she is treated as a subhuman--people don't touch or talk to widows.

During her time at the ashram, Chuiya influences the lives of other in powerful ways. An older widow, Shakuntala , who becomes like the mother of Chuiya begins to question the reason for the ashram and the religious tradition. In addition, to the journey that Chuiya goes through, there is a forbidden love story tucked into the film. The story of Water is, at times, simply beautiful and heart wrenching other times.

Besides the story line, the visual style of the film is beautiful and delicate. Mehta really knows how to show the beauty of the landscape that she worked with. She captured the rain, the sunset and sunrise by the river in a calm but magnificent manner. I really admire her style in this particular film as much as I admire Wong Kar Wai's. Despite all the controversies that this film has caused in the Indian community (sets were burnt, production delayed by years, filming move outside of India to Sri Lanka), the film is a must see for its beauty if not for its story.

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