Movies | 10 | Water
When Deepa Mehta began shooting Water in Varanasi, a large section of the Hindu fraternity got offended. According to them, the movie was anti-Hindu and thus they did not Mehta shoot her movie. Instead, the movie was taken to Sri Lanka where it was beautifully shot and brought to life.
The relevance of these events very essentially meets the entire message of the movie – the un-necessity of religious overlaps in the representation of women and the irrelevance of certain crude ancient teachings. While teachings of the ancient text – the Manusmriti, written 2000 years ago – still found takers in the 1930’s – where the movie is set; one can just not deny its familiarity with the society of the present day as well! And so, a woman life is half her husband’s and so if and when he dies, she is half dead as well. The other remaining half of her life should now either be spent in isolation; or in communion with her brother-in-law; or must be ended then and there on her husband’s pyre.
So if you get shocked next time some one tells you that it was as late as 1991 when the Vatican Church accepted that Gallileo (who was burnt in public for making this claim) was right when he said the Sun was the centre of the solar system; do think again – the Hindus are yet to let a woman decide the course of her life.
In the movie, writers Mehta and Anurag Kashyap bring out the suppressed and un-celebrated womanhood through the various characters – mainly Chuhiya, Shakuntala, Kalyani, Didi and Narayan – and what they symbolise. All these characters are Hindi-speaking; obey the societal norms; have adopted different vantage roles in implementing them; and though they come from the various social segments of the incumbent society, they are brought together by the issue of widowhood – a problem depicted as a deep running vein in the Indian culture.
In Water, the widows are castrated from the society and condemned to a life in isolation, beggary and self-oppression. How much does corruption-for-power play a role in this gender imbalance, is very evidently brought out by ‘Didi’. An old widow who serves as the supplier of the flesh for the rich upper class – for which it is a thing of esteem and pride to sleep with a widow.
On the other hand, though, because the widow has chosen to live a life of chastity to “make amends and atone for the sins of her life” – as if the blame for her husband’s death was her – anything and almost everything inhumane can pass off as a fitting punishment. So when the eight year old Chuhiya is imprisoned in these philosophies, no one raises an eyebrow. The kid longs to go back home, play with a dog and does not even remember her husband, yet has to accept this life that has been slapped on her.
Kalyani – a beautiful widow – who also secretly wishes to get rid of this life, is the sex-slave for the upper class. She believes in the beauty of dance, art and literature but is reduced to oblivion. Perhaps the only character who has made peace with her reality is Shakuntala. She also serves a reinforcer of these beliefs and practices. However, towards the end, even Shakuntala manages to change-of-heart – something that she had been resisting, disapproving and denying despite the pitiable state of Chuhiya and the rebellious lifestyle of Kalyani.
Narayan – the only solid male character of the movie is the heralder of the new dawn. Quite symbolically and ironically, his character is given the task of rescuing the sinking lives of women which itself had been caused by actions of his own gender.
Water is a brilliant movie that poignantly treats the subject of womanhood and relevance of religion and ancient belief in the present Indian scenario. Perhaps the greatest irony of the movie is that it tells the story of evolution of the ideal society – something taught by its Gods in the texts – and was yet uprooted from the holiest city in the country and was shot in a place looked as the land of the favourate Indian mythological villain.