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.
Why Stream This Film?
- 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)
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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.
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.
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.
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