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A thesis picture. In 1938, Gandhi's party is making inroads in women's rights. Chuyia, a child already married but living with her parents, becomes a widow. By tradition, she is unceremoniously left at a bare and impoverished widows' ashram, beside the Ganges during monsoon season. The ashram's leader pimps out Kalyani, a young and beautiful widow, for household funds. Narayan, a follower of Gandhi, falls in love with her. Can she break with tradition and religious teaching to marry him? The ashram's moral center is Shakuntala, deeply religious but conflicted about her fate. Can she protect Kalyani or Chuyia? Amid all this water, is rebirth possible or does tradition drown all? Written by
In 2001, well-regarded Iranian director Majid Majidi came out with Baran, a film about a young girl forced to pretend to be a boy in order to bring money to her immigrant Afghani family, living illegally in Iran and not permitted to work. Baran means 'rain' in Farsi, and the allegory of water was a very important one thematically within the film.
Baran was later thematically pilfered by a less successful film, Osama, which dealt with the harsh reality of an anti-feminist Taliban in Afghanistan, where a girl is caught pretending to be a boy by the Taliban regime, and the horrible consequences of her actions - only committed for the purpose of survival.
Water is similar to both of these films on several thematic levels. Deepa Mehta finishes he trilogy on a powerful note. She gives us the story of two women, each trying to discover a sense of self-worth and purpose while trapped in a seemingly endless life of forced confinement. she also gives us the story of a woman who is not only trying to keep her faith but understand it, and a man who is looking for change in a world of stagnation and traditionalism.
The feminist ideal is a prominent one, as is survival against the harshest of odds. Inhumanity on one level contrasted against the theme of renewal, both physically and spiritually - the essence of water, the ever-moving, indispersable, and essential aspect of life itself. But Water succeeds on the level of Baran - unlike Osama, which preaches incessantly, hitting you over the head with its point until your concussed with what the director has to say. Water, like Baran, is subtle, preferring to let the human side of the story tell you what you need to know, and showing us the necessity for change, for hope, for unbroken faith, without holding our hands through the process.
Mehta has given us a very successful film. What struck me most about this film was that the subject matter is one that the Western world would likely exclaim as being incomprehensible - that of widows being thought of as untouchable, and spiritual pollution (as though it was their will that their husbands die on them...) - and yet so much of the Western World exists in this film. This is not merely an Eastern film that we should look at and cluck our tongues, saying 'those crazy Indians!' These issues exist in our back yards - the ill treatment of foreigners, of neighbours, of our own peoples.
This film is very heavy, but there is a light side to it - the message of Ghandi, and the promise of renewal of spirit. That faith is not something to twist to your own beliefs, but something for your beliefs to be twisted to. We are constantly reminded of Ghandi's teachings - but we are never preached to. Instead, Ghandi could almost be an absent narrator - his voice is only heard for a brief instant near the end of the film - instead we hear his voice through the voice of Narayan, who is the avatar of Ghandi in the film, and the avatar of change.
Water teaches us that problems exist, and that many are rooted in our own traditions and beliefs - often misinterpreted or twisted by us to fit our agendas. The British can't be scapegoats for THIS set of issues (though they were responsible for plenty of others). Change is hard to come by, but the one thing that is eternal is Water. Sure, there are a few moments of unsubtle prodding in the film, but the fine acting and smart writing overcame any moments of forced drama. And the heart-wrenching twists within the story were surprising in their finality, and not Disneyesque tear-jerking moments. Our faith (and not necessarily religious faith) must be like water - for without either, we cannot hope to survive. 9.5/10.
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