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:: Water

Water is not only a film whose story chronicles the plight of women and politics during colonial India in the 1930s’ when Gandhi began his independence struggle; it is an epic which overcame protest, controversy and a mammoth of odds to come to fruition and receive a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival, five years after filming was initially halted due to fears of severe unrest.

Director Deepa Mehta was forced to film in Sri Lanka after sets were burnt down and her life was threatened in Northern India by hard-line Hindu protesters. It is a simultaneous fictional and real tale which journeys through a strong defiance of tradition, both off and on set to become a truly remarkable centrepiece for an era which solemnly promoted new beginnings and ideals.

At the very beginning of Water, we are introduced to Chuyia (Sarala); an 8-year-old, Hindu girl who although yet to reach a mere decade of life, has already been married and widowed. Traditional Hindi law states that a woman who is widowed must spend her remaining life in renunciation, living among those like herself and deprived of all comforts and atoning for sins which are said to have resulted in their husbands' death.

Living among poverty-stricken streets in an overcrowded house called an ashram, widows have a certain place in society and are expected to act a particular way, but Chuyia refuses and begins causing unrest among fellow housemates.

Sarala is an extraordinary actress and her mischievous expressions and curious attitude ensure her journey is entertaining to follow, even though it is occupied with heartache and restrictions far larger then her minute existence.

While Chuyia refuses to succumb to her traditional tasks and life as a widow those around her first scold her but soon realise she is the only one capable of teaching them a valuable lesson which will lead to personal freedom - if not change conventional thinking and overturn their struggle.

Soon, young Chuyia befriends Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a stunning young widow who is ostracised by the other women. They bond over her young puppy dog and spend time together praying, dancing and chatting. It is during this time that Kalyani meets Narayana (John Abraham) and they find an immediate attraction but their time together is limited because widows are prohibited from re-marrying and should not be spending time with any sort of male acquaintance.

Narayana is a reformist law student who is joining Gandhi’s Quit India Movement. Much to his mothers joy he brings home news that he has finally found his bride but when she discovers that it is a widow she breaks down and urges her son to reconsider. He organises for himself and Kalyani to secretly meet and after just two meetings, proposes to his love. The uproar which surrounds the aftermath of this proposal in both their lives transforms relationships and ends in heartache. Their courage and strength is inspirational yet the decisions they make become even more powerful than the love they share.

Water is exceptional in that it allows an unfamiliar audience to venture up close and personal with forbidden actions and hidden truths. It journeys through themes of patriarchy, faith, corruption, poverty, child prostitution and most compelling, forbidden love.

The film is the third element in Deep Mehta’s trilogy; the follow-up of her first two, Fire and Earth. Each story delves into controversial issues, brought to light through various journeys and characters with a strong will, yearning for freedom and righteousness.

Water is a refreshing experience with an unexpected finality. Mehta cleverly ensures the audience empathises with each character and the strong Hindi traditions. At times, dialogue is scarce purposefully fuelling the picture and the message being taught. The scenery is spectacular and the symbolism of the powerful element of water is prominent throughout.

Many films contain an unforgettable, yet unobtainable ‘fairytale’ ending; in contrast, Water ends in reality. Hopes and dreams will only ever get you as far as you want them to. Where that ends, in a country with traditions so strong they are written into the law is uncontrollable.