Monday, May 15, 2006


I am recommending Deepa Mehta's film, Water, wholesale. Went to see it this weekend and, although I wasn't sure at the time if I was going to enjoy anything so intense, I am really glad I saw it. Yes, it's intense. Yes, it's hauntingly sad. There's an undercurrent of despair running through the whole film. But it's so eminently watchable.

The reviews way over in this part of the world have been overwhelmingly positive. I was somewhat skeptical before I went to see it, in part because I find that the media here is impressed by displays of "third world intolerance." So, just the fact that Water stirred up so much trouble (with the sets being set on fire by religious fundamentalists, etc) and the fact that Mehta had to move the production to another country and the whole process took 4 years, is enough for many newspapers/magazines here to kowtow before her courage in pursuing the project. Also, let's face it, have never expected a whole lot from either Lisa Ray or John Abraham, acting-wise.

But, it turns out, my doubts were unneccessary. The reviews were spot on. The art direction is beautiful. The whole film is done in wonderful hues with carefully crafted scenes. That much I expected and was not disappointed. I also trusted Mehta to avoid sensationalism (because I thought she did a fairly delicate job with Fire) and she managed that pretty well, too -- while still getting across an important message.

And the characters. They really were the best part. The little girl (Sarala) who played Chuyia, an 8-year-old widow, was just so charming and endearing. And she had never acted before; she's from a little village in Sri Lanka. Lisa Ray, who played Kalyani, the beautiful widow (of course!), was surprisingly good in her part. And, drum roll, so was John! I had a really hard time taking him totally seriously for the first 1/3 of the film. Because, well, he's John Abraham. And he still looks like John Abraham, even with the Gandhian glasses and with his sculpted body hidden under loose clothes. But for the rest of the film, when his character (Narayan) came to the forefront more, he did the part justice. It's definitely the best thing he's done so far. But by far, the best actor in the film was Seema Biswas. Her character, Shakuntala, was also the most fully and intricately developed one (apart from Chuyia) and her performance was just powerful.

The movie seemed occassionally didactic, but we have to remember it's exploring a topic that most viewers -- in India and abroad -- are not particularly familiar with. I mean, I grew up in India and, while I was aware that widows had it bad in parts of the north especially, I never fully realized what that meant. And although she is trying to create awareness of a social issue, I think Mehta allowed the story -- and the message -- to evolve out of the relationships between the widows, which is a really good way to do it. Because the strength of the film lies in the individual personalities of those women and how they interact -- either fluidly or explosively -- with each other in the situation that society had put them in.

It's very bittersweet. But, if you've seen Fire, you'd already know that. The despair never quite goes away, but I suppose... that's reality.


At 3:07 AM, Blogger rai.karan said...

i remember watching 'fire' this one night. the one scene i can't forget is when the little girl is watching her maid get dragged off , the desperation on her face - how she wants someone to help her. she looks up and see's amir khans character, who at one point was in love with the maid. but the look on his face,the complete indifference, as he squas down and lights a bidi. powerful. or did i just imagine it all

At 7:00 AM, Blogger rhea said...

don't think you imagined it, but i'm pretty sure the scene you're talking about is from 'earth' (which i haven't seen). cos amir khan's in that one, but not in 'fire.' right?

At 3:50 AM, Blogger rai.karan said...

... earth.. yes it was earth... must be getting old... hope breakfast was fun.

At 10:37 PM, Blogger ~*sim*~ said...

dude, the best scene in 'earth' was the one with rahul khanna and whatsherface in bed with "yeh jo zindagi hai" in the background. or am i just imagining it all?

At 5:36 PM, Blogger V!Aiyer said...

I have only read reviews about these movies but it seems I have missed out on something important..

Rhea-in N.India in some parts you have mentioned widows have it real bad...Bang on target..You all might be shocked to learn 'sati'is still practiced in remote villages/areas..

I know quite a bit about what happens to a widow in a typical S.Indian village, but before that a little background on me..I was born in B'lore and brought up in Delhi so I have been really fortunate to have a strong ingredient of diversity in my upbringing..

The so called 'customs' dictate the widow to shave her head, remove all the ornaments, be dressed in a sandalwood coloured net, make herself look as ugly as possible..

On one hand you have 'sati' and on the other we have some really stuck-up belief which makes a lady a living dead animal..

The other disturbing angle would be, looking at what a man does when his wife dies...

I think I am going off on a tangent


At 11:55 PM, Blogger rhea said...

it's not really a tangent. i think deepa mehta's aim with this movie was to get people to think, to feel something, to respond to the "accepted" way things are.. if you're doing that, then she has accomplished something significant.

and yes, i think the customs are bad enough in themselves -- but when you add the double standard for men and women, it makes me want to throw something.

At 3:41 AM, Blogger Sandy V said...

I was brought into this page by my close friend called Vinayakan. Although iam an avid reader of blogs (mostly technical) but couldnt resist when vinna personally sent me an email recomending your blog.

First of all we in India did not or shall i say will not have the Privilege of seeing such an intense movie with nerve recking scripts (though i have managed to see both fire and earth) by Mz. Mehta. So reading your review and comment about the movie sure gave me an insight about how the movie would be.
Now there are still some things which brought me closer to the review was the theory of Women revolution. In the age when women like Sunita, Kalpana chawla are travelling to space and helping people like us know the solar system beyond Milky ways and 9 planets, here are situations not only in India but some more places in South East Asia where women are sold for as low as $50. The place is none other than pattaya and phuket. Ofcourse as rightly mentioned by Vinna that SATI is still practiced in Villages of Jhansi,Gwalior,Chatthisgarh list goes on..

Here in India people live on beliefs and Myths. Sometimes even i do, nothing wrong in that. But as they say excess of everything is harmful, I guess thats the reason why people are not liberated enough (specially MEN) to accept the right way and not continue to live in the Chanakya or Akbar period. Abdul Kalam is the Current President not them.

To summarize, the roots of this ill practices and sick treatment for women would only stop by awareness and not by you and me speaking about it. I'm already working for an NGO as a part time (Sakshi) for the upliftment of women in the remote and rural parts of India and Phillipines. And i hope with the help of people like you and many others, all our dreams would come to reality one day not just in India but across the human RACE in this Blue planet of ours...and i wait patiently...



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