Cast: Lisa Ray, John Abraham
Direction: Deepa Mehta
Wrinkle, crinkle. An ancient widow craves a sweet treat, imagining barfis of pistachios brought to her by halwais twirling moustachios. Eventually, the poor old crone gets her sugar fix alright but she’s dead before the day turns into night.
Writer-director Deepa Mehta’s widely-discussed-and-imperiled Water did deserve to make all the waves it did. It’s a beauty, understated and elegantly narrated despite its subject of widow rehabilitation, which could have become mega-melodramatic and sensationalistic in lesser accomplished hands.
For sure, there is a L’Oreal kind of cosmetic look about an ashram of marginalised women under the tutelage of a Cruella da Ville. Believe it or not, the place looks even more inviting than a health spa. Aah, but eventually Giles Nuttgens’ pretty-as--postcard photography doesn’t diminish the impact of Mehta’s story set in the late 1930s – underscoring the fact that conditions haven’t changed much for un-empowered women anywhere in the world today.
For starters, there is a certain kind of self-consciousness about the way Mehta elects to narrate the story, resting the camera relentlessly on a knee-high girl Chuhiya (Sarala, a natural) who hop scotches through that hell for widows. Through her point of view, then, you’re pulled into a world where prayers at least promise a heavenly afterlife. Some consolation that!
Unimpressed,Little Mousey wants out, even while widows in white suffer from gout. So far, so wobbly.
It’s when the script broadens its frame that you’re hooked, especially by the delicate love story between a young widow (Lisa Ray, as exquisite as an Italian Renaissance painting) and a reformist (John Abraham, not bad, phew).
The two move towards defying the orthodox elements of the river bank township – obviously alluding to Varanasi – even if too much water has flown over the centuries, down the Ganges.
In brief but bold strokes, Mehta sets up other believable characters like the caring, pragmatic widow (Seema Biswas, convincing), the chillum puffing ashram dragon (Manorama, terrific), the foul-mouthed eunuch (Raghuvir Yadav, okay), not to forget the reformist’s friend (Unrecognisable ) who exudes the milk of human cynicism. Throughout, the dialogue is colloquial and to the point.
Towards the latter half, the script plays its trump cards deftly, the frequent allusions to Gandhi and Raja Ram Mohan Roy, culminate in a searing wrap-up which offers hope but no easy-as-pie solutions.
A work of integrity and heart, here’s Mehta’s most satisfying work yet..for which you’re even willing to forgive her the horrific Bollywood Hollywood (1999).
Although Water is a bit of the bottled mineral variety, it quenches your thirst for top quality cinema. It gets your two thumbs-up surely.