Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

March 9, 2007

Much water under the bridge

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:50 pm

March 09, 2007

Cast: John Abraham, Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, Sarala

Director: Deepa Mehta

Two weeks after the Oscars and a good one year after it was released in the West, Deepa Mehta’s Water arrives in India! It’s the third in her elements trilogy, the one Mehta was forced to film in Sri Lanka after Hindu fundamentalists destroyed her sets in Banaras seven years ago.

The film, as you probably know, is set in the thirties and focuses on a group of Hindu widows who’ve been condemned by law to spend the rest of their lives in an ashram on the banks of the Ganga, exiled from the outside world. The film’s plot unfolds from the perspective of eight-year-old Chuiya, played by Sri Lankan newcomer Sarala as an innocent but playful child who comes to live in the ashram after the death of her husband, a man she hardly recognises, a marriage she does not even remember.

Chuiya’s arrival at this widow home is really the catalyst for what happens next. Bolstered by this child’s free spirit and inspired by her boundless energy, some of the women living here begin to question their fidelity to a religion and a tradition that turns helpless widows into penniless outcasts.

What’s upsetting about Water is the fact that it reinforces every stereotype you can think of. It’s clearly a film that’s pandering to the West, serving up a romanticised, exoticised India – are you surprised it was nominated for an Oscar?

But in all fairness, it’s also a cinematic achievement, this film, particularly the luscious cinematography by Giles Nuttgens and the haunting score by A R Rahman. John Abraham as the staunch Gandhian who falls for a widow despite parental opposition delivers an adequate performance, as does Lisa Ray playing the rebellious widow who finds an escape from her shameful life in the form of love.

But the stars of the show are undeniably Sarala the little dynamo of talent, and Seema Biswas who underplays for the most part, but brings to life her role as a middle-aged widow who’s embraced the way of life that’s been selected for her. It is their scenes together that are film’s most engaging moments, the ones you remember long after you’ve left the cinema.

Mehta’s direction cannot be faulted, she understands her characters intricately. Even bit players like the mithai-lusting bua touches your heart because it’s a character written and directed so sensitively. Sadly, it’s the sluggish pace of the film that gets to you eventually. Scenes unfold so leisurely that you cannot be blamed for losing your interest before the end credits roll. All things considered, I’m still going to go with three out of five for Deepa Mehta’s Water. It’s got more depth than Fire but it’s still not a patch on1947: Earth which was a far more compelling story. Water is poetic and painstakingly beautiful but that’s also exactly what’s wrong with it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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