WATER (Deepa Mehta). 115 minutes. Opens Friday (November 4). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
It was worth the wait - and the fight - to immerse ourselves in this Water .
Back in 2000, because of right-wing Hindu extremists in India, writer/director Deepa Mehta found the production of this conclusion to her elements trilogy shut down. Four years later, she recast the film and relocated to Sri Lanka, and the result is a compelling, absorbing tale of oppression and survival.
It's 1938 India, and feisty, imaginative eight-year-old Chuyia (Sarala), her betrothed husband dead, finds herself removed from her family and shut up in a reclusive house for Hindu widows, who, according to tradition, must live in penitence until death. There she meets other unfortunate widows, including the grotesque leader Madhumati (Manorama), the dignified Shakuntala ( Seema Biswas) and the young beauty Kalyani ( Lisa Ray ), whom Madhumati prostitutes to wealthy Brahmins.
Mehta's script starts as the simple story of a Dickensian heroine (newcomer Sarala is incredibly expressive and intelligent) and opens up to become a riveting examination of changing religious and social mores, with the presence of Mahatma Gandhi and his work constantly in the background.
Mehta has a sensitive eye and ear. The performances are exquisitely nuanced, the look of the film is stunning but never ostentatious, the use of the water metaphor subtle and graceful.
In the third act, Mehta makes her points a little too emphatically, but this is a major work by a major filmmaker, full of anger and compassion.