Lisa Ray , John Abraham , Deepa Mehta
Politics Aside, A Film of Consumate Beauty
By Jeff Farrow
before the opening credits, I could see by the gorgeous cinematography that
WATER was going to be an outstanding film—and it is. The movie takes on the
Hindu caste system & focuses on the plight of lower caste widows during the
early rise of Gandhi in the 1930's. The widows in the film are sent by
relatives (as in parceled out like an ordinary commodity) to a sort of rundown
hostel in the poorest section of New Delhi. A toad like elderly female tyrant
runs it—but she's not totally bad, she deeply mourns the death of a pet
parrot—AND she likes to blow Ganga while praising Shiva...she might be cranky
& look like Yoda, but, hey, she's my kind of gal!
The film revolves around 2 major plots: The life of a little girl widowed at the age of 7, and the love between a beautiful widow & prostitute (?) with an upper caste attorney who supports Gandhi & the social modernization movement. The actress Sarala who plays the young girl (making her Bollywood premiere) is outstandingly natural & a pure joy to watch. The adult young woman & the upper caste man are appropriately attractive & star-crossed.
In one scene a very old woman is talking to the girl, telling her that she was also widowed as a child. The happiest moment she can recall was her wedding feast (when she too was 7) where she ate all kinds of candies & sweets. Now she doesn't have the money to buy sweets & often dwells on her only happy memory during her entire lifetime and she constantly reflects on it—often—as us old folks are prone to do. The little girl surprises the old lady while she's sleeping, leaving a large confection near her head for the old woman to see when she wakes up. The woman dies that same night. I don't recall if she at least had the time to wake-up & see her new friend's act of generosity.
When discussing life in general, another widow remarks that if a woman were really, really good in this life, when she dies she might be blest enough to return (reincarnate) as a man. This widow is also spiritually attached to a Hindu priest & his modest Ashram (spiritual teaching/healing center). This sub-plot illustrates how people in general often seek compensation in religion for the hardships of life, a life that—more often than not—seems wholly indifferent to the human condition.
Another character of interest in the movie is a male transvestite who always wears women's clothes—sort of like the "Gaudy Goddess Line". I'm not exactly sure what h/she was meant to convey in the movie, but I do know that there is a Hindu deity named Kartikeya who is androgynous. The actor does seem to "parrot" (or parody) the emotions of the old tyrant, and together they appear to burlesque a mutually exaggerated emotional view of life.
Now on to negative reactions to
the socio-religious-political implications of WATER.
The people who gave this film a single star (and probably would have withheld even that if Amazon review rules allowed it), in no uncertain terms denounce the film on political & religious grounds. A lot of the dissention centers on the ancient Texts of Manu (specific date uncertain, but generally between 200 BCE-200 CE). The texts deal with the subject of Hindu spiritual law. As much I am drawn to Hindu practices & incorporate them into my personal religious mythology, I don't have the educational background at the moment with which to weigh in on the specifics of the reviewer's arguments. They are quite vituperative in their objections to WATER.
Perhaps there is a certain degree of truth on both opposing sides?
The events as portrayed in WATER occurred 70 + years ago. Certainly the United States, for example, has experienced a near revolutionary reform of race relations from the 1950's onward. I am aware that there remain today extremely backward "spiritual" practices in India such as astrology & the Guru racket (not all gurus are confidence tricksters, but many are). Women aren't jumping into the husband's funeral pyre (i.e. suttee) anymore (I hope.) Then there's the artistic aspect: I find abhorrent the politics & twisted mythology of the 1930's Nuremberg Nazi documentary, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL by Nazi enthusiast Leni Riefensthal, but nonetheless I recognize it as a masterpiece and—yes—work of genius. The film's artistic merit transcends its' own propaganda--and I don't mean to equate WATER with racist fascism, but it's always difficult when dealing with diametrically opposed symbolism & belief systems.
Obviously I don't have ready answers to the political & religious objections raised by other reviewers, but I do want them to know that I don't dismiss their concerns, and will look closer into the issues.
In conclusion—and on a much more positive note—the wonderful fusion composer, Mychael Danna, is credited for the softly woven soundtrack of WATER.
Celtic Tale: Legend of Deirdre