Sunday, March 11, 2007

Water: Movie Review, and the politics!

About the film..

Water is a beautifully shot film which holds a mirror to the Hindu Society whose laws and customs condemned women to a closeted and colorless life. It traces the life of an eight year old girl, Chuyia (Sarala) in India of 1938, who after she becomes a child widow, is abandoned by her parents in a widow Ashram. In the Ashram she is taken under the wings of Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) who acts as a check against the excesses of the domineering House Mother.

The film revolves around the life of its oppressed inmates who are bound together by misfortune. Chuyia also befriends Kalyani (Lisa ray), another child widow whose astonishing beauty now turns out to be her curse in youth. Forced into prostitution to support the Ashram, Kalyani finds love in a young law student Narayan (John Abraham) driven by Gandhian idealism and willing to offer her a second chance in life. The story of the lovers predictably ends in a tragedy. Gandhi and the social change that he symbolizes remains a recurring theme for the characters in the film. The story ends fittingly with a defining moment where, Shakuntala hands over Chuyia to Narayan traveling with the rest of Gandhi’s followers in a train carrying Gandhi himself.

Water manages to showcase the fury of women against the unjust patriarchal tradition with beautiful performance by Seema Biswas and the child actress Sarala. Lisa Ray fills the screen with her ethereal beauty even while playing a demure widow and performs adequately in the role of a dignified woman wronged by fate. John Abraham plays his role with conviction. The background music by Mychael Danna and songs by A.R.Rehman lift the movie to a higher level. In all, this a good film recommended for those who like meaningful films.

and its Oscar nomination glory!...

Western media has dwelt at length about how the film was not allowed to be made in India. For the film maker eager to sell her film to a foreign audience, stories of such opposition and of mentor George Lucas ensuring the Film’s completion, helped to add to the film’s appeal. Any westerner, who watches this powerful film, after reading in the deservedly positive movie reviews about how the film was banned in India, may understandably leap to a conclusion that India is governed by Manu’s laws.

In reality, most of the so called vocal opposition was by right wing parties and activists who inhabit the societal fringe. The ranting Cameraman conveniently skips the pertinent question raised by the RSS head about why Deepa Mehta picks up only those issues with potential for sensationalizing the ills of Indian Society. Deepa Mehta displays no eagerness to look at the evolution of India and understand issues from a perspective. Rather she comes across as someone who hand picks (and in this case lifts!) stories that cater to the sensibilities of her target audience in US and Canada. This, along with the Canadian Director’s Punjabi roots, offer clues as to why her next film is on the Komagata Maru incident. Unfortunately, she is not the first or will even be the last to earn her reputation by packaging the pathos in India. This makes her, despite her directorial skill, prone to be criticized as a “creative hit (wo) man” eager to reinforce the western stereotypes about India.

It also explains why other issue based films like Provoked, Bandit Queen and Fire (which coincidentally condemn patriarchal traditions or India, depending on your perspective) achieve greater visibility there than the well meaning efforts from mainstream Indian cinema like Rang De Basanti or Lage Raho Munna Bhai. After watching this film I am convinced its Oscar nomination tells more about what the Americans like to watch than about great cinema.

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