Water Hindi Movie Review

Feature Film | Drama, Social
Sep 15, 2005 By Subhash K. Jha

What do you say about a film that hits you hard where it hurts the most, so hard that it takes your breath away.


Water belongs to that rare category of films that have the power to redefine the parameters of cinema, to realign the function and purpose of the medium, and to restructure the way we, the audience, look at the motion picture experience.


It's no coincidence that Deepa Mehta's heroine is named Kalyani. Lisa Ray as the tragic but radiant widow seems to echo Nutan's Kalyani in Bimal Roy's Bandini. The tragic grandeur that Water wears on its resplendent sleeve is a quality that sets it apart from other reformist dramas.


The film has a great deal to say about the plight of socio-economically challenged women, specifically the widows of Varanasi in the 1930s. The burning ghats and the waters that flow from them symbolise the ashes-and-embers predicament of Mehta's ashram-bound women...all plagued by the pathos of dereliction, deprivation and, yes, prostitution.


In telling it like it is, Mehta never filches. Her elemental trilogy (Fire, Earth and Water) reflects a harshly uncompromising sensibility. In Water, Mehta doesn't beautify the brutality of the widows' existence.


There are bouts of humour, dance and music (watch Lisa Ray and little Sarala dance around their dingy room as the rain splashes romantically on the parched streets down below, or the eruption of Holi revelry in the ashram). A quality of luminous lyricism runs through the narration, especially in the romantic interludes between Narayan (John Abraham) and Kalyani (Lisa Ray), which are designed like a modern-day reworking of the Radha-Krishna mythology.


The sheer purity and beauty of the central romance contrasts tellingly with the squalid lives and settings that the plot negotiates.


Giles Nuttgen's camera doesn't flinch from the beauty and the grime. The cinematography could've easily converted the multi-layered character-study into a touristic over-view. But Nuttgen takes us into the darkest areas of the human condition to search for the peace that prevails under the panic of existence. And A.R. Rahman's music, his best in years, uplifts the mood of tragic pathos.


Many moments in Water would comfortably qualify as pure cinema. That moment when the oldest woman in the ashram devours a laddoo that she had been craving for all her life could be seen as the most satirically tragic juncture in a film on socio-culturally challenged lives.


Water as the giver and the destroyer...that's the predominant metaphor that cuts through this tale. Each time we see the porcelain Kalyani peep out of her dungeon-like window, we know she's searching for a horizon that most of us never find in our lifetime.


Water contours and defines those glazed regions in our history that we would rather not sharp-focus on. In many ways its depiction of the plight of abandoned widows is a metaphor for the condition of women across the world, and also a microcosmic view of the human condition.


The fine cast grabs your undivided attention. Seasoned performers like Manorama (playing the head of the ashram, she's a conniving scheming mass of vulgarity and self-interest), Seema Biswas (clenched and controlled) and Raghuvir Yadav (a singing eunuch) blend beautifully with the central love story embodied with supreme sensitivity in the John-Lisa pair.


And to think that we always thought of John and Lisa as actors incapable of overcoming their inherent urbanity!


It's Sarala as little Chuhiya whom you'll find hard to get out of your head. She is the most credible child performer on a par with Ayesha Kapoor in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black. Normally children in Hindi films respond to adult situations in an unnaturally knowing way. Chuhiya remains a child caught in a frightening world of persecution and perversion.


Mehta inter-cuts the wretched lives of the characters with glimmers of

Subhash K. Jha

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