Monday, March 12, 2007

Water

Water makes you wonder why we, human beings, perpetrate such injustices amongst our own kind in the name of religion. It provokes a lot of questions and highlights two injustices in India’s society, the plight of widows and child marriage, which still prevail thanks to lack of education and political will.

Water is set in Varanasi in 1938, the days when Gandhiji was also a new phenomenon in India – people would talk about him as a heretic. It follows the story of Chuiya (played by Sarala), a bubbly, inquisitive 8 or 10 year old girl, who is widowed and left by her in-laws in the widows ashram in Varanasi. She doesn’t remember her huband and when told she is now a widow, her response is ‘till when ?’ The ashram itself has an informal head, Madhumati (Manorama), a pompous, self serving person, called ‘Moti didi’ by Chuiya. Seema Biswas plays Shakuntala or ‘didi’, a quiet, strong character, with an innate anger which makes her the only person who can challenge Madhumati if she so chooses. Lisa Ray plays Kalyani, who is given special privileges like having a room to herself upstairs and allowed to retain her hair as she is the one who ‘earns’ money for the ashram by satisfying the lust of the city’s merchants.

The movie reminded me of Shawshank Redemption a lot, a prison movie unlike any other (if you haven’t seen this one, please do, its in my top 5 alltime list !). The ashram too is like a prison – all inmates are like life termers, dressed in a white robe/sari, shorn of any personal adornments, and lacking most basic amenities. Most develop their own routines / beliefs – it’s the only way to cope with life and maintain your sanity. Some go and pray in a temple, some do Krishan jaap 108 times a day, some listen to a Brahmin and clean his sitting place with ganga jal every morning. Life goes on, enlivened by the antics of young Chuiya who questions everything, rebels against the moti didi on numerous occasions. She befriends both Kalyani and didi and starts to become accustomed to life in the ashram

I loved the way the different characters are shown in the ashram. Despite all of them wearing the same clothes, even looking the same in their cropped hair, their personalities still come through. There is an old widow who remembers vividly the sweets she used to get when she was younger (ghee ke laddoo’s, halwa, gulab jamun etc). Some still question their state while others are blind followers of moti didi. And despite the drabness of their existence there are still enough light moments to brighten up life.

Enter Narayanan (John Abraham), the son of a city merchant, studying to be a lawyer and an avid follower of Gandhiji. He meets Chuiya and Kalyani in a chance encounter on the ghats and is fascinated enough by Kalyani to want to meet her again.

The movie has several outstanding performances - Sarala and Seema Biswas play their characters very naturally. Raghuvir Yadav is virtually unrecognizable as a ‘Hijra’ who acts as the pimp between the ashram and the city merchants. Vinay Pathak is very convincing as Rabindra, John’s anglophile friend. John Abraham brings a quiet ‘oomph’ to his role - I know that sounds impossible but he manages. And Lisa Ray is brilliant. Like Tim Robbins in Shawshank, she brings a dignity to her character, a knowing yet innocent look, a kind of half smile which never deserts her face. It is clear, like the rest of widows, fate has dealt her an unfair hand and she deserves better. But instead of bemoaning her fate, she carries on with the business of living.

The only mild negative I have is that I sensed in a few places, that this is a movie catering to the Western audience. It seemed to me to suggest in a few places that the English were actually good for India, that their way of life is superior (in some respects) to the Indian way of life. But I am remarkably thin-skinned on this topic and its not done overtly, is unlikely to be an issue with anyone else. I also wish there was some way the movie could end with a suggestion on how the viewers could impact the issue, ie shift from being art for arts sake and actually do something constructive. Maybe they could name the existing ashrams still practicing in the country, a kind of name and shame action to spark off the social activists who currently get all hot and bothered by much more trivial issues. Maybe they could start a petition or a charity…but this is probably another story….

The movie is very touching and moves you. It has a slow, meandering pace, like that of a quiet river, with the only ripples caused by the antics of Chuiya and later by the developing relationship between Narayanan and Kalyani. Will they be able to overcome the societal taboo’s associated with their friendship ? What will happen to Chuiya ? Will there be a fairytale ending ? What do you think happens in real life ?

3 comments:

Monica said...

Hi There ,
I havent seen water as yet but from the review it seems similar to another movie that was directed by Vijaya Mehta in the mid 80s. called Raosaheb. It starred Anupam Kher as Roa Saheb, Vijaya Mehta and Tanvi Azmi.
Do try to see it if you can.

Aditi said...

hi
this movie has moved me to a great extent.. n i really want everyone to watch this movie to know wat all these people go thru even now. we all should do something for them even if its as little as possible..

Arun said...

charu forced me to watch this boring ass movie...lisa ray git yer tits out next time