Saturday, December 16, 2006


Disguised as religion, it's about money

By Edward Copeland
I’ve never had a chance to see the first two-thirds of Deepa Mehta’s trilogy about India, but after seeing her excellent Water, I feel at some point when I have some free time, I must catch up. Canada’s submission for the Oscar for foreign language film (Canada is not a misprint), Water is a rich, evocative and heartbreaking film.

Set in 1938 India as Mahatma Gandhi’s rise to prominence was just beginning, Water focuses on the status of widows within the Hindu religion. According to religious law (though real laws said otherwise, even then), when a husband dies, widows must live in what amounts to group homes, spending the remainder of their lives in “purity” and solitude.

Age doesn’t matter, so this affects an 8-year-old girl Chuyia (Sarala), who doesn’t even remember being married. Chuyia is a feisty young girl who doesn’t understand why she’s being taken away from her family for having wed a man she can’t even remember.

The child is hardly the only widow questioning the wisdom of the practice. A beautiful young widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray) also harbors doubts, especially since the evil head widow of the home (Manorama) basically pimps her out for money and she finds herself falling for Narayan (John Abraham), a young follower of Gandhi who too finds the religious edicts absurd. As he tells Kalyani at one point, the way widows are treated has nothing to do with religion and all to do about economics, as families take the opportunity to have one less mouth to feed.

Of course, the star-crossed would-be lovers’ path isn’t easy as his mother expresses outrage at his rejection of tradition, he finds little help from his father, whom he felt was more liberal in his thinking, and the other widows plot against her for disturbing their life and livelihood.

Mehta’s films have generated much controversy in India (a title card at the movie’s end indicates that the way widows are treated still continues in some areas of India today), but we need more films such as Water which challenge preconceived notions, but do so by telling compelling stories without shoving their messages down the audience’s throats.

The performers all excel and the technical credits, especially Giles Nuttgens’ stunning cinematography, make Water a true pleasure to watch.

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A fine film, very moving. Wonderful example of how sharp, political comment can be communicated through a simple story. Lisa Ray is a stunning beauty, though I'm not sure her performance merits an Oscar as some say, but what do Oscars mean, anyway.
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