Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 110 mins
Cast: Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Waheeda Rehman, Raghuvir Yadav, Vinay Pathak, Rishma Malik John Abraham
Directed by: Deepa Mehta
Written by: Deepa Mehta
Went to see "Water" yesterday. Recently it's been on everybody's lips because it was the opening feature for the Toronto International Film Festival (2005) which, after Cannes, is the most influential film festival (think Oscars!)
Water is set in 1938 in Varnasi a city on the banks of the Holy river Ganges; this was the city most widows in colonial India went to after their husbands died. Many of them lived in "ashrams" (charitable homes) where they paid rent from the alms they received begging on the pathways that led to the numerous temples in and around Varnasi. According to the Hindu custom of the time, the widows must shave their heads and live in a cloister, where, for the rest of their days, they must atone for the sins that must surely have prompted their husbands' deaths. They wore only white, no make-up and had to subsist on very basic food since normal food was considered a luxury and thus a sin. People considered the widows to be bad luck and they had to be careful never to appear at weddings or other auspicious occasions. The only ceremonies they were called upon to attend were cremations, where they would their cries to that of the mourners for a small fee or a fistful of rice.
As always, when there are destitute women, there are men and even women, looking to prey upon them. Some of the rich men in Varnasi had no qualms about having sex with these widows and in many of the ashrams, the youngest widow was the one singled out to service them. She was given special treatment by the older widows because she was their golden goose.
As if this wasn't sad enough, since child marriage was prevalent in those days, there were many child widows, most of whom hadn't even seen their husbands because they did not go to their husband's house till they reached puberty. The husbands picked were usually atleast 10-15 years older than them.
The backdrop of the film is the rise of Mahatma Gandhi, who not only agitated for India’s independence from Britain but also sought to improve the lot of Hindu widows. Colonies like the one depicted in 'Water' aren’t nearly as prevalent in modern India, but according to Mehta, they do still exist. Through advocacy and activism, however, Hindu widows have become more independent.
This is what Deepa Mehta had to say about her film:
“...We are very good, as different nations and different cultures, to have a collective amnesia about our own problems. "Water" is about three women trying to break that cycle and trying to find dignity, and trying to get rid of the yoke of oppression, and if it inspires people to do something in their own culture, that’s what’s important...”