2005 | Drama | 114 minutes | Hindi with English subtitles


In 1930s India, eight-year-old Chuyia becomes a widow before she knows what it is to be a child, let alone a wife. In those days, India regarded widows as non-persons, worse than the untouchables, shunted off to an ashram for widows, and dustbinned until they die. Chuyia’s bracelets are removed, her hair is shorn, and she’s required to wear a plain white robe. The fourteen widows living in the dilapidated house are there to expiate bad karma and  to relieve their families from financial and emotional burdens. The ashram is ruled by Madhumati, a cruel and pompous lady in her 70s. One resident, the beautiful Kalyani, is allowed to keep her hair long. She is forced to be a prostitute to support the ashram. Chuyia is convinced  her stay is temporary and  her mother will soon come to bring her home. Chuyia soon realizes  this will not happen. When Kalyani drowns herself, Madhumati forces Chuyia to replace Kalyani and become a prostitute. Chuyia is traumatized and becomes catatonic. But the wise and sharp widow, Shakuntala, who befriended Chuyia, is determined that somehow she is going to save Chuyia and give her a shot at living a normal life.  

Sarala Kariyawasam (Chuyia) / Manorama (Madhumati) / Lisa Ray (Kalyani) / Seema Biswas (Shakuntala)
Why Stream This Film?
Hindu fundamentalists, angered by the depiction of what they asserted was a tradition no longer practiced, disrupted the production, destroyed the set, and burned Mehta in effigy. The entire production was forced to relocate to Sri Lanka.  Yes, it was the past and the Hindu fundamentalists should never forget  what they did. And we, today, should see this film to be reminded how inhumane we can sometimes be to the vulnerable people living amongst us.
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 90%
  • Metacritic Score: 77
  • Academy Awards: Nominated, Best Foreign Language Film
  • National Board of Review: Winner, NBR Freedom of Expression Award
  • Vancouver Film Critics Circle: Winner, Best Director (Deepa Mehta)
The film is lovely in the way Satyajit Ray’s films are lovely. It sees poverty and deprivation as a condition of life, not an exception to it, and finds beauty in the souls of its characters.Their misfortune does not make them unattractive. In many Indian films it is not startling to be poor, or to be in the thrall of 2,000-year old customs; such customs are taken for granted, and the story goes on from there.
Roger Ebert


An often lyrical and lovely film. The film’s wrenching final scene conveys both tragedy and hope for a better world. Mehta’s film is courageous and reticent, a shout masquerading as a whisper.
Moira Macdonald

Seattle Times

WATER is stunning because it is so quiet. The devastating unfairness of the lives of women interred in darkness, intertwined with the tragic love story, is played out without a hint of melodrama. The horror visited upon  Chuyia is all the more heartbreaking because of the silence.
Shubhra Gupta

The Indian Express

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