Director: Deepa Mehta | 112 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Sarala, Buddhi Wickrama, Rinsly Weerarathne, Iranganie Serasinghe, Hermantha Gamage, Ronica Sajnani, Manorama, Rishma Malik, Meera Biswas, Vidula Javalgekar, Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, Sanoja Bibile, Dolly Ahluwalia, John Abraham
India, 1938: a completely different society than we know in the Netherlands. A society where women become a burden when their husbands die. That is the basis of the story about eight-year-old Chuyia (Sarala), who, after the death of her much older husband, ends up in an ashram – community – for widows. Here she will have to spend the rest of her life according to Indian tradition. Chuyia, convinced her parents will pick her up again, brings a lot of life to the brewery. She befriends Kalyani (Lisa Ray), the ashram’s youngest widow who falls in love with Gandi follower Narayan (John Abraham).
With this story, “Water” paints a picture of a culture that many are unfamiliar with, but which, according to Deepa Mehta, deserves attention. Not so much because these women were so badly off in the 1930s – which of course they were – but because many widows in India today are still excluded from the rest of society. Together with “Fire” (1996) and “Earth” (1998), “Water” is part of Deepa Mehta’s element trilogy. Because “Earth” received much criticism from the traditional Hindu community, it was not possible to film “Water” in India. The film was therefore filmed entirely in Sri Lanka under a fake working title.
Deepa Mehta is from India but emigrated to Canada in 1973. Today she works from both Canada and her native country and has been referred to as the voice of modern India. Dialogues are of secondary importance in “Water”. The things that really matter are only made clear by the images: Chuyia whose head is shaved because she is a widow; Kalyani who crosses the river by boat at night, because she has to prostitute herself on the other side and thus provide part of the income for the ashram. They are images that make clear what the life of widows in India looked like, images that make you sad. And that is exactly what Deepa Mehta wants. Sarala, the girl who plays Chuyia, is from Sri Lanka and didn’t speak a word of Hindi before the film. She had to memorize her text completely. The young Sarala puts down an extraordinary acting performance. Despite the language barrier, she convinces like the energetic Chuyia and steals your heart. You also manage to catch the beautiful Lisa Ray. When Kalyani and Narayan fall in love, you sincerely hope that the two can become happy together, even if all the circumstances indicate that this will not happen. The identification with the main characters ensures that the story makes an incredible impression. In 2007, “Water” was quite rightly nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film.