Monday, March 06, 2006

Water - A Review

At times, we watch movies, with a purely masochistic inclination. We watch the movie, because we predict that it will hurt, it will cause pain, it will provoke thoughts and it won’t let us sleep. But we do it because we seek pleasure in that pain. For similar reasons I watched Water by Deepa Mehta, and well! I got what I wanted; pain, disturbance, thoughts and of course pleasure.

Did I like the movie? It’s difficult to answer. I can say that movie disturbed me and there were moments when I really regretted having watched it, but than I should also say that if I happen to direct a movie someday, I would like to make a movie like Water. Water is purely a director’s movie. At times, directors use deceptive scripts to leave a deep impact on the viewer’s mind. In a deceptive script, you lead the viewer to believe in one storyline and force him to predict the progress of the story and suddenly thud him with a shock. Shyamalan did that in Sixth Sense effectively. It is easier to do that in a thriller or suspense. But Deepa Mehta does it wonderfully in a social drama. She disappointed big time in Fire, but this time she has done a brilliant job.

The movie starts with an 8-year old Chuiya becoming widow. She isn’t even aware as to what being a widow means? She is sent to a separate Ashram. There are 14 women who live in this house for Hindu widows, an old, forlorn two-storey house. These widows are forced to live a life of social alienation and poverty. The women are sent here to expiate bad karma, but more often than not, to relieve their families of financial and emotional burden. She hates almost everyone here. She lives in the constant hope that her mother will come to take her. However, she makes good friends with a young beautiful widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray). Another important character in the Ashram is that of Shakuntala (Seema Viswas), who is not brave enough to question traditions but also is not dumb enough to surrender to taboos, she treats Chuiya with a parent-like affection but also maintains a strange distance very typical of the place. And there is Madhumati (Manorama), an unchallenged leader of the Ashram. Madhumati’s only friends are her pet parrot Mitthu and the pimp eunuch Gulabi (Raghuvir Yadav), who not only keeps Madhumati supplied with ganja, but also with the latest gossip. To survive, the two also indulge into a side business; Gulabi helps Madhumati to prostitute Kalyani (Lisa Ray) and ‘sending’ her to the houses of the elite of the city. A fresh graduated lawyer Narayan (John Abraham) accidentally meets Kalyani at the ghat and immediately falls in love. Kalyani, also attracted to Narayan, cannot get him out of her mind and starts refusing to oblige Madhumati and her `clients.' Meanwhile Narayan ponders how he can arrange a clearly forbidden meeting. Narayan finds a way to meet with Kalyani and during a covered buggy ride through the British section of the city, declares his intent to take her away to Calcutta. Kalyani returns to the widows' house and whispers the secret of her wedding plans to Chuyia, who is thrilled at the prospect of a wedding feast where one can eat as many sweets and forbidden food as one desires. Chuyia unfortunately blurts out the couple's secret to Madhumati, and all hell breaks loose at the house for Hindu widows. Suddenly Kalyani's resistance to being ferried across the waters by Madhumati's pimp makes sense. Not only has Madhumati lost a source of income, but also the disgrace of a widow's re-marriage will doom them all to seven lifetimes of being re-born as jackals. Madhumati menacingly enters Kalyani's isolated hovel, throws her to the floor, shears her long black hair and locks her up until she `comes to her senses'. Shakuntala, over the protests of the other widows, unlocks the door to Kalyani's room. It's a quiet act of rebellion that leaves everyone speechless. A liberated Kalyani walks out of the house, Madhumati's booming voice following her. Kalyani bathes in the ghats, washing away the cruel face of her tormentor, and walks to the small deserted temple where Narayan is waiting for her. Narayan tenderly explores her sheen hair and in a whisper asks her once again if she will marry him. At this point, the movie seems to be heading towards a very clich├ęd bollywoodish fairytale-like climax. But no! This is not ‘memoirs of the geisha’. This is where the beauty of direction comes to life. The director forces you to predict the climax. And than the story takes a turn, as does the boat heading towards Narayan’s home. Why? What happens next? Well, I shouldn’t reveal the story. What follows next is shocking, touching, thought-provoking, extremely painful and cinematically brilliant.

Water, caught itself amid grave controversy in the very early stage of the shooting. It’s true that the story has some shocking elements, but I didn’t find it offending Indian cultural. Rather, I found it to be a very good story and brilliantly executed in one of the finest movies of recent times. Some of the scenes really leave a deep impact on you. Throughout the movie, there are many dialogues criticizing Gandhi and his ideology. But these dialogues are put in such a wonderful context that it in a way conveys the tremendous impact that Mahatma Gandhi had on the social, political and even religious psyche of the masses. In fact, in the climax, Gandhi’s teachings emerge as an alternative to tabooed concept of religion. Overall, it’s a story of introspection. It’s an attempt to look for our own weaknesses and our own problems.

So far as performances are concerned everyone has done an excellent job. The young girl Sarala who plays Chuyia is brilliant. Manorama, a crooked vamp of yesteryears gives one of her best performances. It is difficult to imagine anybody else in that role. Lisa Ray has lots of limitations as an actress. But here, her role is written in such a way that she really fits the character very well. In fact, her roll is so well written that it’s difficult not to fall in love with the character. John Abraham has an important character and he does a very good job too. However, I do feel that he didn’t do enough homework on his diction and accent. His Hindi sounds a bit ‘metro-ish’ and doesn’t carry either clarity or feel of Hindi spoken in Hindi-belt during 1930s. Veterans Wahida Rehman and Kulbhooshan Kharbanda also shine in smaller roles. Raghuvir Yadav is superb as ever. He sings a thumari in one scene while taking Kalyani to a ‘client’ and that sounds so melodious! However, Seema Viswas steals the show. Her role is the most complicated and challenging and she is just awesome.

Water is not without limitations. Movie was shot in Sri Lanka. Outdoors even though beautiful, have a tropical Kerala-like look and it is hard to accept it as Varanasi. Moreover, at the Ghat they show South Indian marriage ceremony taking place. I have never been to Varanasi, and it’s difficult to say how many south Indian marriages used to take place at Ganga ghat of Varanasi in 1930s. When Kalyani leaves the Ashram and meets Narayan, there is a symbolic scene where widows are shown playing Holi inside the Ashram. The scene has a strong symbolic impact but somehow I didn’t find it consistent with the rest of the movie. However, the biggest letdown of the movie is the last slide. After a fantastic climax, a slide appears where it is written that still in India there are some million widows and many of them are maltreated. This piece of information is completely unnecessary and kills the impact of the subtlety of the script. Whatever, the point that director wants to make, is already made with the movie in the strongest possible manner, and the extra piece of reinforcement actually spoils the spirit.

Well, finally this is a very good movie. I strongly recommend all of you to watch it at least once.


Nirwa said...

Very nicely written review!!

The movie is banned here in India..

Deepa Mehta is a great director.. I loved her Bollywood/Hollywood (yeah, light movie.. but still.. well made) and Earth too! :)

Keep writing! :)


Nirwa said...

You've been blogrolled by me! :P

Hope you didn't mind me blogrolling you without your permission! :)


Anonymous said...

I watched another disturbing movie like this, called,Matrubhoomi. I know it came out a while back, but i didn't watch it till yesterday. It caused pain too.

Hardik said...

I watched another disturbing movie like this, called,Matrubhoomi. I know it came out a while back, but i didn't watch it till yesterday. It caused pain too.