March 13, 2007

‘Water’ By Deepa Mehta- A Review

Filed under: Most Read,movie reviews,Movies,opinions — Kaveeta Oberoi Kaul @ 12:26 pm
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Kaveetaa Kaul

There are films that entertain you and then there is a film like ‘Water’ by Deepa Mehta which moves you and shames you at once, for belonging to an ethos which conforms to the barabarities portrayed via the story of widows, perhaps sequestering,therefore further criminalised , ages ranging from eight to eighty.

There maybe no answers, but should that hinder us from questioning? Especially in the darkened hall where you are spared looking at another Indian, in the eye. Should we hide these truths about India as we would our personal crimes?

In 2000 when the film had created a stir in the media and in Varanasi where it had caused a few Hindu fundamentalist groups to abort the shooting, one was confused as to whether our loyalties lay with our cultural lineage or freedom of expression which considered the same an anathema.

The politicos had their sway and Deepa was forced to relent. She left the country ironically with a bound script, approved by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, but without a single shot canned.

An interesting and informative read by an Australian technician who has graphically depicted the sequence of events from the inception of the shoot in India, the furore and the closure, is almost mandatory to conceptualise the shame Indians refuse to own up to in perpetuating the customs which epitomise corrosive, debasing traditions targetting women in general and widows in particular. The protests did not stem from the urge to eradicate the misery of these forsaken women but from anger at another Director choosing to broadcast the plight of the widows to the world at large.

The film eventually rose to garner its energy, saw completion and consequently, acclaim, having reached the penultimate round of the Oscar nominations. India’s entry ‘Rang De Basanti ‘ failed to make it even thus far. Despite the reckoning that its not advisable to resort to reductionism at such times since apart from sounding cheesy it mocks the majority, yet one is compelled to look askance at law makers, administration of State alongside creative honchos.

The objection by the political party as per the link above was their resistance in showing India in a poor light. Then pray isnt this exactly what was the the core issue of RDB? Was not the inherent corruption at the top most level blatantly expressed? And it did not even have the advantage of hiding behind the screen of ‘aeons ago’ as did ‘Water’ to some extent. It was today and now, the current pathetic scenario of India.. and that was gleefully packaged off in all its glory to the Oscars!!

Baah!! So much for political machinations.

The film opens with an inspiring, imaginative sweeping shot of lotus blooming in a lake, pristine, untouched by the murkiness they arose from. The visual conveyed the sense, unless it was ones imagination lending a poetic configuration. Nevertheless it bespoke of a philosophy that went perfectly with the feel of the film.

India in the 1930’s prior to Independence, when The Mahatama had made his presence and his enigma capture every Indians heart and mind, serves as a backdrop to this tale of widows, who live huddled together in an ‘ashram’ in Varanasi, insulated from the world, deprived and defiled, stigmatised, cursed for having lost their husbands, some even before having seen them and others like the little ‘sarala’ all of eight years old, who had her head shaved off clothed in a white loin cloth and discarded by her father to the haplessness of her situation, resignedly…when she innocently asked of her father sleepy eyed’ till when?’ on being informed that she is now a widow.

At the hands of a less dedicated technician a certain feckless departure or irresponsible additions might have ruined the wealth of detail the film seemed imbued with. Its never an easy task to depict innately sulfurous circumstances with a passive stoicness, which is what Deepa should be credited for.


There is a certain section who has criticised this attempt by slotting it as an uninspiring rendering, boring and staid screenplay. Personally, apart from a few scenes between John Abraham the male protagonist and his friend Vinay Pathak on the ghat, which were heavy with potential in its content but as if scuttled off in a hurried harried manner, the rest of the film was a grave sombre, sensitive, subtle narrative. The pathos was implied, tragedy hinted at, which left one numb and almost wondering ‘ What was the basis of the tradition that thus debased innocents’? Manu Smriti..a much revered and adhered text..a venerated source! Reflection on authenticity and authorship never revealed but hugely suspected to be males thwarted or threatened by female power… What Manu and whose Smriti!! Baah


A shaven head, like a hideous patchwork, clustered mounds of grass on beautiful face of Lisa Ray, resorted to or rather yanked off in symbiotically, implying relinquishing of the right to aspire to dream, either for a man or a life, beyond the hellish precincts of the ashram.. save to serve as a prostitute to wealthy ‘seth’ thereby providing livelihood for the other inmates…are scenes which immobilise you and strike at the inner core, leaving you almost too stricken, even to breathe.By the end of the film, the little ‘sarala’ too was sent ‘across’ to the darkened haveli of a paedophile, since the Lisa ( Kalyani) had chosen to end her life, recourseless, after she realised that her would be father-in-law was the man she had been condemned to serve night after night.

It would be naive and highly dismissive to believe that post Independence situation has taken on a different hue. There are yet thousands of widows all over India, (conservative estimate) destitute, discarded and dismembered from society either forced into prostitution or begging on the streets of Varanasi and other such.

This film serves a cruel reminder that most often it is Society and its rigors which have condemned life no less than a concentration camp for the Jews for a section of its members. The question that arises is ‘Why?’ or ‘Will it ever change?” While the cities, bigger towns can boast of a an altered scenario, yet in households steeped in anachronistic traditions, the whiff of progressive thinking has not come close enough to effect renaissance.

The original cast in 2000 included Shabana Azmi in place of Seema Biswas and Nandita Das in that Of Lisa Rays character. The inherent meat of the portrayals was so imminent that it would have been surprising if the story could have gone wrong,either way.

Yet Seema Biswas as the ‘Didi’ mother like and annapurana’ based role, Manorama as the aging caretaker, who had sanitised her aberrations by a compromised stance, the little Sarala, deserve mention. John Abraham, had little to assay, in terms of dramatics. For whatever his role meant to convey he did, as would any other. Although the other minor characters were so life like, that ignoring them would be blasphemy. But Deepa has won majorly with the aptness and scenes from the peripheral characters.

Cinematography, editing and background score were classy. The technical values in almost every category were above par.

Somehow, one desists from getting critical about the treatment of some scenes which could have benefitted tremendously had the emotion been tapped wholly. There is no debating that for those to who cinema translates into ‘a- laugh- a- minute- riot, or a crescendo of emotions, this film would probably be one which tests their patience.

For some, however, the audaciousness, veracity and almost iconoclastic depictions compells serious viewing and appreciativeness. ..amalgamated with a certain embarassment at being Indian.

Rating: 3.5/5



  1. If most films are escapist then this one does not allow for that. The story was remarkable!! and so was your review..Thanks

    Comment by krishnan — March 13, 2007 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  2. sometimes, in certain posts, u really resonate the POV.. point of view!! i really cannot argue on this one coz i could not agree better, put it more beautifully… n thatz the word!! really it was a slap on our so called intellect wen RDB got nomination n then W got thru from a phoren land n then went on to become the chose few.. of a billion dreamz, n thatz how myopic we are? sigh… and the wayz of life, still, in the back waterz of the urbane n the mish-mashed areas of india makes me wonder whether we are lost in translation? where science n religion has given birth to a bastard culture over the catalyst of western liberal ethos??

    wud water have made it to the nominationz if it was an indian entry? can we really be sure if ur answer is ‘yes’?? still, ur post opens up the indian dishes gone without a pinch of salt, n it seems we have also lost our taste budz… lovely one!! blessings of the big B i guess 🙂

    Comment by saptarshi — March 13, 2007 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  3. Actually I had no intention of seeing the film, thinking its going to be one long saga of crying. Your review yesterday made me take a try. I think that I would have missed something if I had given it a miss 🙂 since i was pre-warned by you si had decided to sit patiently. Its a film which if she went ahead and made it after all the shit she has been thru then it is creditable . I think she shot it in Sri Lanka and had to re create the look. What I realy really loved was when sarla goes to the rich guys house at night and after the door is closed ..softly whispers hum khelne aaye hain’ killed me.

    Comment by Neha — March 14, 2007 @ 11:42 am | Reply

  4. Thanks Krishnan..

    Sapt.. Hmmm…and so we resonate finally? Is that the only reason you consider it ‘beautiful’? I’d thought that even a differing viewpoint if well presented is equally worthy of your kind considerations.As adopted by me over your conflictual comments…worthy of thought? But ahh would not like to miss the pleasure of basking in glory ..good while it lasts 🙂

    Somehow I consider the best transition as being one which has flown through myriad seas and then found its enriches the gain and silts the residue to emerge clearer potent and electrified.

    Would ‘water’ have made it? Possibly not. But then its not as if the Oscars are the single most credible yardstick of great cinema. It was the refusal to permit her from shooting here that got my goat.

    Consider this: The objection by the political party as per the link above was their resistance in showing India in a poor light. Then pray isnt this exactly what was the the core issue of RDB? Was not the inherent corrruption at the top most level blatantly expressed? And it did not even have the advantage of hiding behind the screen of ‘aeons ago’ as did ‘water’ to some extent. It was today and now, the current pathetic scenario of India.. and that was gleefully packaged off in all its glory to the Oscars!!

    Wow!! dont we have some real hard thinkers at the helm of affairs in India!!

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 14, 2007 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  5. my reviews dearie 🙂 Kidding..The fact of the matter is that movies preferences are distinct. Until and unless the vibes and sensibilities are not in sync, few agree on selection.

    And oh yes the scene was so tragic.. especially in light of the manner in which sarlas character was developed and how much attuned we as an audience were to her situation..these and other such like subtle projections made ‘water truly watchable. To underplay, is an art, not many cater to and even lesser appreciate.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 14, 2007 @ 3:27 pm | Reply

  6. ‘conflictual comments’…. the sevensaints against the believer of big B @ wars 🙂
    u really have ur way with things… n u even added a beautiful dimension to ‘beautiful’ 🙂 nope! the resonance din make the score beautiful.. rather it was pretty on its own accord…
    a differing view point is obviously classy n tatz why it evokes a counter… it has the nascent seeds of something very mature… hmmm… though these die a natural death in the skewed democracy of our native land- who has time to analyze?

    the point u made with ‘water’ about the politico playing a reverse sweep n getting it plump in front of the wicket!! alas! we never look into action replays n rectify the ‘unknown/known errors of our lives’ n with glee we have left the future in the ‘safe’ hands of the politics-mongers!! the shooting was marred by the religio-politico Bourgeoisie n some how we never really cared- the common man.. n now we are all trying to wear the faint smell of ‘canadian perfume’…

    i dunno whom to blame, rather how can we bounce out of this kinda situation wer we are not thinking into the changes required… oscars r not the ultimate ‘danda’ of good movie-making but to the global village, we presented a funny bone 🙂
    transition.. transformation, bettering… everything seems to come at some pre-motivated price n somehow the pride of work n ownership lacks in the ranks.

    no one thinks.. we are all trying to play scientist, doctor, engineer n building the Noah’s ask for selfish interests… ‘we’ do not exist n in this virtual reality, the ‘water’ would flow down the ganges, kaveri… but won cleanse us of the sins!! actually, cowards die many times before their death… so its all numb!!

    india is on auto-pilot… the hard thinkers din get a boarding pass… as for the passengers on board? playing with newbie gadgets that they picked from the airports… they-R aint aware….

    the big B n his blessings… bhagwan bharose chal raha hai bus…

    Comment by saptarshi — March 14, 2007 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  7. Film-making is an extremely difficult business. It is difficult to start a film and even more difficult to complete one. There are un-imaginable hurdles at every step. Often heartbreaks. For many the effort may end in financial ruin. Careers and Fortunes of so many involved often begin and end with a single film. But no amount of words can bring to you the experience unless you are one of the film fraternity. The only thing that is ‘easy’ about film is to ‘write one off’. With a shrug of the shoulders, a wave of the hand, a few careless words….therefore a huge responsibility rests with the reviewer. As great as a film-maker’s for in a sense the reviewer can also make or break a film. Films are not intended to merely entertain. But a majority seems to think so. A good reviewer will always tap the soul of a film and highlight its strengths before excercising his/her great power to simply demolish(the latter sadly being the trend). Kaveetaa I feel you are one of the few that actually empathises with the film-maker and your love and understanding of the medium is most apparent. I find your reviews to be a ‘true’ assessment and more often than not they draw attention to subtle finer points which may otherwise may be missed. I look forward to your work. Please carry on…:-)

    Comment by Amitabh — March 14, 2007 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

  8. Ahh Sapt.. Big B undoubtedly omnipresent, omniscient..Worry not 🙂

    Hi Amitabh,

    Your comment I presume is your first I right?

    Allow me to just add that it was truly touching and in its content and heartwarming for me personally. A thousand questions arise as to your identity.. but no compulsions..feel free to exercise your right not to divulge.Its just that it seemed as if coming from the fraternity.

    Thanks a million and will try my best not to disappoint.

    Films are a passion I not only enjoy watching but equally relish dissecting.. albeit with my heart more often than my is painful to ‘write off’ I agree..thoroughly enjoyed reading your comment..Looking forward to more from you as well.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 14, 2007 @ 11:24 pm | Reply

  9. Dear Kaveetaa… absolutely wonderful review!! I was so very disappointed, “Water” did not win an Oscar for best foreign-language film(representing from Canada).. not only because I am Canadian; but, because the film, was remarkably well done!

    The tenderness, the delicacy of the issues widows in India faced, including child-widows. In Canada, you must be 16 to wed; and wedding a child under that age; is construed as pedophilia-related, and money-making for impoverished families of too many female children!

    However, with this film, the disgust, the anxiety, the compassion, and even the anger I felt at the issues they faced as depraved human beings for merely being a widow; were awashed with compassion, beauty of character portrayed; and staying true to Indian heritage… english dubbed.. keeping the Indian language prominent!

    I have also seen Deepa’s Earth.. another wonderful film!! I urge everyone in India, to put their bias, prejudice, discrimination aside; and allow yourself to be transported back in time.. where Ghandi ruled the people, with love, compassion, and self-impoverishment.

    with loving kindness, had to come out of my introverted life of late.. to commend you on a great review… as if you could even possibly write a close to not-good one.. hah!


    Comment by North — March 15, 2007 @ 7:40 am | Reply

  10. Thanks so much North.

    As expected, audiences in India are not too kicked about the film. Either its a case of not wanting to go back in time, or the fact that the film does not translate into being the quintessential pot boiler. For me it worked as a film, as it did for the foreign audience who were keen on not only viewing a part of Indian heritage but also a subtle display of artistry.

    I cannot relate with some who have dismissed this attempt by Deepa as ‘trash or rubbish. As Amitabh above has pointed out, that film making needs responsible reviewing. Its only those who have been privy to the actual labor can envisage the turmoil.Sadly sometimes it is these very people who love to show their foiled attempts and the ensuing frustration by speaking unkindly of another maker. Humans and their foibles. Fairness as if becomes alien.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 16, 2007 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  11. Kaveetaa:
    Sorry to take your attention off this but do you think you would know how to know(?!) the ip address of the comp visiting one’s blog? I remember in one of ur posts some time back about a Wipro issue, you had said something that suggested that you do! could you let me know, please? Thanks.

    Comment by Me here — March 19, 2007 @ 2:34 am | Reply

  12. Me Here,


    Its no rocket science really.. thanks to wordpress..anybody leaving a comment also leaves an ip address, which one does not really bother with unless essential.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — March 19, 2007 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  13. Hi Kaveetaa,

    When dealing with film ( viewing or reviewing) one must always do so from the heart as one film from the heart is worth a hundred from the mind.

    I would rather remain anonymous but yes I am a film buff to the core…hope we can enlighten each other for times to come.

    The collections of ‘Water’ are 67,98,619 1st week India.. which is shamefully low…the shame is upon us viewers. Deepa I would like to congratulate on having made a fine film.

    Comment by Amitabh — March 20, 2007 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

  14. i thought the movie Water was amazing. I nearly cried near the end of the movie. I could not believe Didi would send Chuiya at such an early age to sleep with that old man. Its really sad how kids in India were married at such a young age. Watching this movie made me apreciate my life 200 times more. I give Water 2 thumbs up.

    Comment by thatsa — October 27, 2009 @ 12:11 am | Reply

  15. I am a Southern American female. I was so moved by “Water” that I was crying in empathy for the plight of these women. The hope in the face of the woman handing little Sarala to John made my heart ache. I fell in love with the music and visuals as well as the portrayal of emotion spoken without words. Bravo Deepa! I will immediatly begin to search for ” Earth”. I have been gifted with a deeper insight into the culture that I didnt even know existed before this film. Thank you for pursuing your vision and in turn, opening the eyes of many. Paula Burson-Briley

    Comment by paula — December 3, 2010 @ 12:59 am | Reply

  16. Other than the Feminist theory, what other theories do you think played an important role. what about sociological theory, or the learning theory. And if so in what ways were these theories displayed in the movie!

    Comment by susan — April 29, 2012 @ 9:54 am | Reply

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