Thought of the Day

I don't believe in morality, but I believe in ethical conduct as set out by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Ethical conduct = a way of behaving that respects others’ right to be happy".

Friday, 23 November 2007

water ~ a film on the politics of religion

Written by Anurag Kashyap (dialogue) and Deepa Metha
Directed by Deepa Metha
Sarala as Chuyia
Lisa Ray as
John Abraham as Narayan
Seema Biswas as Shakuntala
Language: Hindi
USA:117 min

Nominated for Oscar
"God willing she'll reborn as a man."

set in india during the english colonialism and before gandhi's arrival, water follows the life of a heterogeneous group of widows in the ashram, a life characterised by renunciation, penitence and social degradation, their only guilt being to be born widows: some of them could be as young as eight years old as the protagonist is. chuya's vitality upsets the order and hierarchy of this marginalized community on the bank of ganga river, source of purification or life and death alike. the widows keep washing themselves in its waters, as hindu belief holds that bathing in the river on certain occasions causes the forgiveness of sins and helps attain salvation. but ganga is also known for the immersion of the ashes of their kin; this immersion also is believed to send the ashes to heaven. [digression: the two most important hindu festivals: Kumbh Mela and Chhat Puja see millions of people bathing their limbs in the sacred river.]

Deepa Mehda's sensitivity brings to the screen old hindu traditions, misinterpreted and distorted over the centuries for convenient political reasons. the Holy Hindu Scriptures, if read verbatim, offers a widow three options: one, to marry her husband's younger brother, if his family permits; two, to kill herself on his funeral pyre; three, to live a life of celibacy, discipline, and solitude amongst her own kind. a new law in india allows widows to remarry but this news appears not to have reached varanasi in 1938.

the film's shooting started in 2000 in the holy city of varanasi, but was soon opposed by religious fundamentalists, and the government, despite its approval of the script, little did to protect the cast from harassment and death threats. the director had a mission: to complete her trilogy on the natural elements started four years earlier with fire (on the politics of sexuality) and earth (on the politics of nationalism). the troubled making of this fine film was chronicled by Deepa's daughter in shooting water. five years later they moved to sri lanka and recruited a new casting.

the impressive photography was directed by niles nuttgens, the same director of the other two films. filming in a tropical country such as sri lanka was hard as it is much greener than india. so, nuttgens decided to convey a peculiar personality to the slowed pace of life in the ashram, in contrast with the nature and colours of the life outside. the result is excellent: blue and green being the dominant colours.

sarala, the little actress, was found in a village in the south of sri lanka and could speak neither hindi nor english. so, she learnt the script phonetically and was directed with gestures and mimics. she is so natural behind the camera - an amazing cinematic revelation.

ranyan is a bollywood star and fits just right the role of idealist and follower of gandhi. he is delicate, elegant and kind.

Seema Biswas (Shakuntala), who symbolises change, delivers a thoughtful and charismatic acting, which overshadows the gracious but vulnerable and fragile Lisa Ray (Kalyani).

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