Director: Deepa Mehta
The third work in Deepa Mehta’s trilogy, (which contained Fire and Earth), Water is set in India in 1938. At its center, the film reveals the aftermath for an eight year old girl whose husband (yes, husband she barely remembers being forced into marrying) dies. After she is widowed, she is left in an ashram run by other (mostly cruel) widows— her hair is cut off completely and she is marked by her white robe indicating her status as widow worthy of shun. Although widows were legally allowed to remarry, it was often deemed “inconvenient” and also scandalous so our young heroine waits in seclusion, making friends with a beautiful twenty something widow who sometimes works as a prostitute. After her friend meets a young wealthy man who wishes to marry her, events lead to a predictably dismal ending— but Mehta’s lyrical film is so moving, and so urgent with its setting of a pre-Ghandi India, that viewers are rooted at the edges of their seat, although knowing that sacrifices will have to be made. Although some complained that the music makes it a bit melodramatic, this film is the strongest in Mehta’s trilogy— her films with their feminist call to action for those being overlooked in India have made her quite the villain in her homeland. Sets for Water were destroyed and after Mehta’s life was threatened, the shoot was relocated to Sri Lanka for safety sake, alerting astute viewers that perhaps things haven’t changed all that much for women expressing their own voices in India.