Sep 15, 2006
Recently released on DVD, this profound film was produced in India by writer/director Deepa Mehta. Water tells the story of Chuyia, an eight-year-old girl who is widowed. Against her will, she goes to live in a home with other widows, who, according to Hindu tradition, are to live their remaining days in prayer and penance. Amidst this landscape of shocking injustice emerges Gandhi, a hero who brings hope for those oppressed by social customs and by British imperial rule.
Chuyia has no desire to live a life of penance, and her feisty temperament causes quite a stir in the convent-like house. Some of the women are pious Hindus, and some, inevitably, use religion for their own personal gain. This hypocrisy seems to justify the actions of one woman, Kalyani, who plans to defy tradition and remarry.
As I know little about Hindu culture, I cannot presume to interpret the religious and social customs present in Water. Some basic human truths do emerge, however. For example, Gandhi exhorts his followers to recognize the dignity of every human person, which is no small feat in a society that banishes its lowest classes to the streets.
This film is visually remarkable, capturing beautiful images in a setting that would be stark and unappealing without the aid of a filmmaker’s careful eye. Water is an omnipresent image in the film, symbolizing everything from purity and cleansing to transition and death. The artistry will likely be lost on young audiences, as will the subtleties of the difficult and sometimes disturbing subject matter. Although its lack of graphic images has earned Water a PG rating, I recommend it to more mature audiences who can appreciate its thoughtful treatment of controversial and vitally important topics.