Jan 12, 2010

Water (2005), by Deepa Mehta

In The Netherlands i thank god for Belgian state-run television. They still show good film in its entirety, no commercial breaks, and with full end credits. Whereas here in Holland you have to work your way through diapers and insurances every 20 minutes in order to watch a good film.
Last Sunday, Belgian channel Ketnet/Canvas showed the film Water, the third in Deepa Mehta's elements-series (after the other must-sees Fire (1996) and Earth (1998)).
Water deals with the life of widows in India, who, according to the ancient lawbooks of Manu, have to stay single and 'pure' in order to achieve salvation. This literally means that these women live in extremely poor and dingy ashrams, doing nothing but waiting to die. (at least, that's what the movie shows) It is believed that when they, or their shadow, touches another person, this brings bad luck. Besides that it was common for little girls to be married off to an older man, and then have a life without childhood.
Water beautifully shows the loneliness and isolation these women suffer. Water, the holy element for many a Hindu, the bringer of life, is also the seperation between the poor woman and the rich man who uses them for prositution. And it is the element that can make a beautiful woman drown herself out of despair.
Of course, things have changed. The movie is set against the backdrop of Ghandi coming to rise against the British, and Raja Ram Mohan Roy passing the widow- remarriage act. But if it was up to many a reactionary Hindu in India right now, time is to be turned back to the golden days of Manu, where women were still men's property. Not surprisingly, a group of fundamentalist Hindus have put Deepa Mehta on their 'hitlist'. (although this was mainly because of Fire, which supposedly dealt with lesbianism)
The film left me moved by the great acting of the little girl Chuyia, and her interaction with none other than John Abraham (whom we now know as a six-packed Bollywood star from Goal). But I think the main character was the ashram's moral centre Shakuntala. She was the only one divided in her faith, confused between tradition and modernity. It is her indicisiveness, stubbornness sometimes, which is the best representation of India's society. Choosing for individual freedom can not come without pain, without loss.

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