Review of the film Water
Water is the final film in a trilogy by director Deepa Mehta after the films Fire and Earth. The film focuses on the denial of the Hindu widows by their community and their miserable condition in the 1939 in the holy city of Varanasi (Benares), popularly called Vrindavan, city of widows, and which is still prevalent even today in India with a population of over 33 million widows.
Cultural Tradition in India
The cultural tradition that is followed in India does not change much with the passage of time. It is a short of a continual process with the refinement of the old order. In India the practice of Suttee that is the immolation of the widow on her husband’s funeral pyre was prevalent in the olden days. This gave place to the confinement of the women to an ashram or widow house where they had to lead an austere and chaste life away from family (samsara) irrespective of their age. Actually this religious customs were indulged to get rid of the widows who were considered burdens in absence of their husbands. Literally they were imprisoned for life living in misery, begging and even sometimes forced to veiled prostitution for subsistence. Mehta has very firmly projected this truth in her film Water.
The film Water is set in the backdrop of the British rule in India in the 1939.The common practice at this time was the marriage of younger girls to older men .The girl child was a burden and the sooner she is married off the better. The eight year old little girl, Chuyia (acted by Sarla Kariyawasam) was married off for financial reason to an old man who naturally died leaving her a widow. She is supposed to live her whole life in renunciation worshipping and singing hymns (bhajans) to make amends for the sinful works (Karma) of her previous life for which supposedly her husband died but in reality they relieved their family from financial and emotional burdens. The film portrays fourteen widows of different age living together in a small, ramshackle two-storied house built around a central courtyard. The main dominant character in the film who rules this ashram is Madhumati (played by Manorama), a well built haughty widow in her 70’s.She is assisted by the pimp Gulabi(played by Raghuvir Yadav) who is a eunuch and supplies ganja, a kind of narcotic to Madumati and also updates her of the gossips and also accompanies Kalyani, the second youngest and the most beautiful having long hair, crossing the waters for prostitution. She is forced to do so to support the ashram. Shakuntala(played by Seema Biswas) is an inscrutable character and one of the few of the literates. She gets intellectual knowledge and understanding from a priest Sadananda, (played by Khulbhusan Kharbanda) whom she secretly loved and felt guilty at heart. Chuiya plays a very important role in the film and the widows see in her the children they once were and also think of their child that they will never have. Shakuntala devoted to religious rituals develops motherly feelings seeing Chuiya. Although she tries to guide Chuiya to follow the ways of the widows but stops to questions her options whether the small girl will also have to live like her, a life of subjugation and repression.
Portrayal of inhumanness
The inhumanness is again portrayed in the film in the case of Kalyani who meets a young man Narayan (played by John Abraham), a law student from an affluent Indian family and a dedicated follower of Mahatma Gandhiand his Civil Disobedience Movement. He speaks against the cruel treatment of the women and caste system. But they cannot ultimately meet or remarry even when things seemed very near. Madhumati defiles Kalyani, cuts her hair and subjects her to inhuman torture and she meets her end. Even worse is the fate of Chuiya who is also forced to work as prostitute carrying on the tradition? The final message by the director is given at the end when Shakuntala hands over Chuiya to Narayan to take her into a decent future under her new name Neha.
Film unveils reality
Water is a wonderful movie projecting the severe damage of the human mind and morality by the strong bindings of the prejudiced religious books and documents which are treated as more important than the human beings. This subjugation of women is not only in the Hindu culture but fundamentalism is seen in many religions and in many places but the use of religion to deny the rights and dignity of women is horrendous. Deepa Mehta’s Film is therefore not anti-Hindu but pro-life as she herself states in an interview.