Water (वाटर), 2005, is a Canadian film directed and written by Deepa Mehta. It is set in 1938 and explores the lives of widows at an ashram in Varanasi, India. The film is also the third part of a linked trilogy by Mehta, preceded by Fire (1996) and Earth (1998).
The film premiered at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was honoured with the Opening Night Gala, and was released across Canada in November of that year. It was first released in India on March 09 2007.
The film stars Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham, and Sarala Kariyawasam in pivotal roles and Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Waheeda Rehman, Raghuvir Yadav, and Vinay Pathak in supporting roles. The film's score was composed by Mychael Danna, and songs for the film were composed by A. R. Rahman, with lyrics by Sukhwinder Singh. Cinematography is by Giles Nuttgens, who has worked with Deepa Mehta on several of her films.
Water is set during the period of the British Raj or British Indian Empire in the year 1938, when India was still under colonial rule by the British.
Following Hindu tradition during that period, the marriage of young girls to older men was commonplace in certain parts of India. When a man hailing from an orthodox Hindu family died, his young widow would be forced to spend the rest of her life in an institution for widows called a widow's ashram in order to make amends for the sins from her previous life which supposedly caused her husband's death.
Chuyia (Sarala Kariyawasam) is a eight year old girl who has just lost her husband. She is deposited in the ashram for Hindu widows to spend the rest of her life in renunciation. There are fourteen women who live in the small, dilapidated two-story house built around a central courtyard. The women are sent here to expiate bad karma, as well as to relieve their families of financial and emotional burdens. The ashram is ruled by Madhumati (Manorama), a fat and pompous lady in her 70s. Her only friend is the pimp, Gulabi (Raghuvir Yadav), a sprightly hijra (eunuch) and also a transvestite, who not only keeps Madhumati supplied with ganja, but also with the latest gossip.
The two also have a side business; Gulabi helps Madhumati to prostitute Kalyani (Lisa Ray), the now second youngest of the widows, by taking her across the water to the customers. Kalyani was forced into prostitution as a child to support the ashram. She is valued for her beauty, and is the only widow whose hair is not shorn.
Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) is perhaps the most enigmatic of the widows. She is good-looking, a sharp, dark person with black-brown eyes. She is also one of the few widows who can read. She exudes enough anger that even Madhumati leaves her alone. Quiet and reserved, Shakuntala is caught between her hatred of being a widow and her fear of not being a sincere, devout widow. Shakuntala is a very devout Hindu who seeks the counsel of Sadananda (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), a gentle-looking priest in his late forties who recites the scriptures to the pilgrims who throng the ghats of the holy city. It is him who makes Shakuntala aware of her situation, eventually giving her the necessary intellectual input to separate true faith from the hypocrisy and superstition that makes her and the other widows' lives a misery.
Chuyia is convinced that her stay is a temporary one, and that her mother will come to take her away. With that thought firmly tucked in her mind and most other widows tolerating a certain quantity of unconventional behavior in the young girl, she quickly adapts to her new life. Madhumati sternly initiates her into widowhood.
One day, with Chuyia as an agent, Kalyani meets Narayan (John Abraham), a young and charming upper-class follower of Mahatma Gandhi and of Gandhism. Upon meeting Kalyani there is an immediate attraction, but the restriction placed on interaction with widows makes it difficult to find a way of pursuing any kind of relationship. Kalyani, also attracted to Narayan, tells him, in deference to tradition, to go away as it is a sin to speak with widows.
Kalyani cannot get the young man she met at the ghats out of her mind and she begins to refuse to oblige Madhumati and her 'clients.' Meanwhile, Narayan ponders how he can arrange a clearly forbidden meeting. Narayan manages to contact Kalyani via Chuyia as a messenger, and finds a way to meet with her. During a covered buggy ride through the British section of the city, he 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.
One of Chuyia's many tasks is massaging Madhumati's fat legs. This she does by walking along their spongy length. Brimming over with the suppressed secret of the imminent marriage and all the puri that she will eat, she blurts out the couple's secret to Madhumati.
Consequently, 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, and walks to the small deserted temple where Narayan is waiting for her. Narayan asks her in a whisper if she will marry him. Narayan ferries Kalyani across the water to his parents' house, but upon reaching his father's home, Kalyani begins to recognize the gates of the portico and asks Narayan for the full name of his father. He replies but is perplexed when Kalyani demands that he turn the boat around, unable to voice the reasons for her change of mind.
His father reveals to Narayan that it was he who had used Kalyani as a prostitute. Deeply disappointed, Narayan leaves his father's house to join Mahatma Gandhi (Mohan Jhangiani, actor; Zul Vilani, voice). He arrives at the ashram to take Kalyani with him, only to find out that Kalyani has drowned herself in grief.
Madhumati sends Chuyia away with Gulabi, as the next prostitute for Narayan's father. Shakuntala finds out and runs out to prevent the worst, but she only arrives at the shore in time for Chuyia's return. Cradling Chuyia, she spends the night sitting at the shore. Walking through town with traumatized Chuyia on her arms she hears about Gandhi being at the train station, ready to leave town. Intuitively, she follows the crowd to receive his blessing before his departure. As the train is departing, in an act of despair, Shakuntala runs along the train, asking people to take Chuyia with them, and to put them under the care of Gandhi. She spots Narayan on the train and in a last effort gives Chuyia to him. The train departs, taking Chuyia into a brighter future, under her new name Neha..
The day before filming of Water was due to begin, the crew was informed that there were complications with their location permits for filming. The following day, they learned that 2,000 protesters had stormed the ghats, destroying and burning the main film set and throwing the remnants into the Ganges in protest of what ultimately were revealed to be false accusations regarding the subject matter of the film.
The resulting tensions and economic setbacks led to several years of struggle as Mehta was eventually forced to film Water in Sri Lanka, rather than in India. Finally Mehta was able to make the film, but with a new cast and under a false title (River Moon) in 2003. The struggle to make the film was detailed by Mehta's daughter, Devyani Saltzman, in a non-fiction book, Shooting Water: A Mother-Daughter Journey and the Making of the Film.
|Region||Release date||Festival or Distributor|
|Canada||September 8 2005||Mongrel Media|
|U.S.A||October 2 2005||South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival|
|Spain||October 2 2005||Valladolid International Film Festival|
|Canada||November 4 2005|
|Australia||April 13 2006||Dendy Films|
|U.S.A||April 19 2006||Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles|
|U.S.A||April 26 2006||Indianapolis International Film Festival|
|U.S.A||April 28 2006||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
|Switzerland||August 15 2006||Filmcoopi Zurich AG|
|India||March 9, 2007||B.R. Films|