Cast:John Abraham, Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Waheeda Rehman, Raghuvir Yadav, Vinay Pathak, Rishma MalikDirection:Deepa MehtaMusic:A.R Rahman
Even though Deepa Mehta’s WATER has been in news for over an year and has even made it to the Top-5 of the OSCARS shortlist for the best foreign film, one is a trifle hesitant about what to expect from the film. After all, the film doesn’t stand out like one of your commercial films that would make audience create a beeline in front of the theaters. Moreover a subject that may have caught on the in the West could mainly have been due to the fact it explores the dark side of India, a country that is still about snake charmers and elephants for many out there.
Hence you are ready to take the film with a pinch of salt while venturing into a theater. And that is because as a viewer since you have been exposed to the likes of RANG DE BASANTI and GURU that give a picture of modern day India, you don’t really look forward to hearing the kind of country India was around 100 years back. WATER is about an era that has gone by and except for feeling pity about your past, you don’t really feel like coming out of the multiplex, throw away your warm new-flavor-popcorn and plan to bring around any reforms.
Circa 1938, Pre-independence India, which was under the colonial rule of British. Reforms were being introduced by Mahatma Gandhi and other social activists but that still had to catch on momentum. And while the heat was still building, somewhere up there in North, young widows were still living a tormented life. One such girl was Chuiya, all of 8 years of age, whose husband had died and the only way out for her was to be sent to a widow-ashram managed by 80 year old Madhumati [Manorama].
Innocent and still waiting for her mother to come and pick her back from the place, the good thing about Chuiya was that she wasn’t projected as someone who cried in isolation and whined in public. Instead for her even the ashram was nothing short of a play school. Oblivious to the reality around her, she had fun while sharing a love-hate relationship with Manorama, finding a friend in Kalyani [Lisa Ray] and getting a sympathiser in Shakuntala [Seema Biswas].
What she was unaware about was the fact that the ashram also doubled up as a supplier of widowed women to the influential men in the city. In this profession, Kalyani was one of the favorites with Manorama who was hands-on with Gulabi [Raguvir Yadav], a eunuch who acted as a pimp.
As someone who was confidant of Kalyani, Chuiya sees a subtle romance building between Kalyani and Narayan [John Abraham], a richie rich young man who was heavily influenced by Gandhi and was trying to bring about reforms as possible in his capacity. The first step towards doing something substantial? Marry Kalyani.
Thankfully there isn’t much dramebaazi in this entire episode as after a initial war of words, Kalyani fights the battle and leaves the ashram in search of a better life ahead with Narayan. Little did she know that he would turn out to be the son of the very man who had bedded her in one of her nights of her forced profession.
Deepa Mehta does tell a tale about the era gone by in an utmost convincing manner but one wonders how much would an average Indian viewer be interested in seeing a tale that does nothing more but force you to feel disgusted. Inmates of ashram not allowed to have fried food or sweets, young girls not even into their teens forced into prostitution, widows required to keep a bald plate, pundits narrating the way of life for the widows, a tragic ending….there is just no entertainment value in the film that would make you wish to spend your weekend in the plush seats of your neighboring multiplex.
The pace of the film is fine considering the genre but some of the sequences do make you restless. For example the tale of a near-to-death widow who last had sweets in her childhood and has been craving for them ever since then sounds interesting to begin with but gets on you when it is repeated after every 15 minutes. While Seema Biswas holds the film together with her excellent act [yet again] and acts as a strong force keeping together the ashram, her conversations with Kulbhushan Kharbanda get boring after a point and take you through a philosophical/intellectual route.
Lisa Ray is fine but her looks come in the way of portraying a character that was meant to evoke sympathy and hope. John Abraham is good but it would be wrong on one’s part to imagine himself to be a ‘hero’ in the film. He is there for barely a few scenes and how much one wishes there was more of him. The good part though is that he is convincing and portrays his character well. Vinay Pathak, as his friend, is fair while Waheeda Rehman [his mother] has barely a scene or two.
As said before, Seema Biswas is the best actor in the film as she gives 200% even in the few scenes she gets. Manorama is consistent and it is good to see the veteran actor showing the vulnerability of her character so well. Raghuvir Yadav is fair.
Outdoors of the film have been shot well, especially in the initial reels of the film. Giles Nuttgens gives a a gray look to the scenes with not much colors thrown in, hence depicting the mood and flavor of the film well. Rahman’s music flows well with the film, especially the tracks sung by Sukhwinder Singh.
WATER is a kind of film that would make you come out of the theater and exclaim, “What an effort”! But soon after you would be planning for your dinner in an exquisite restaurant and the next film that you would want to watch to bring in some entertainment quotient. A heavy film in itself, it is only for those who want to go back in the past and question and debate over the society and culture of India which was 100 years back.