Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lisa Ray, Sarala, John Abraham, Seema Biswas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Waheeda Rehman, Raghubir Yadav, Vinay Pathak, Rishma Malik, Manorama, Vidula Javalgekar
Written by: Deepa Mehta
Directed by: Deepa Mehta
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Hindi with English subtitles
Running Time: 117
Date: 09/08/2005

Water (2005)

1 Star (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Deepa Mehta's Water has received almost universal acclaim, even from the toughest critics -- another example of people confusing an honorable message with a good movie.

Water looks at the brutal treatment of Hindu widows in India, shunted off to live in little hovels, stripped of many basic human rights (when their husbands die, this culture believes that part of the widow "dies" as well). Of course, any western viewer will be moved and outraged by this practice, especially when filtered through eight-year old Chuyia (Sarala), who barely understood that she was married.

When widowed, Chuyia is sent to live out the rest of her life with a batch of toothless old women. There is also one achingly beautiful young woman, Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who for some reason gets to keep her shiny long hair (the others must shave their heads).

While chasing a runaway puppy through the market, Chuyia runs smack into Narayan (John Abraham), a bespectacled, liberal-leaning scholar with a sexy day's growth of beard. Narayan is open-minded enough to consider matrimony with the gorgeous Kalyani despite her widow status.

Like a touchy-feely Oliver Stone, Mehta hammers this stuff as if her audience were a bunch of mental vegetables, over-explaining everything and relying heavily on expositional dialogue. She includes shots of pretty trees and water lilies so that the art house crowd can leave feeling they've seen something lovely. In direct counterpoint, Joan Chen's stunning 1998 film Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl also examines the life of a persecuted young girl, but does so in a profoundly physical, poetic way.

Water momentarily comes to life during a couple of quasi-Bollywood musical numbers, but quickly goes back to its drippy routine. Perhaps worst of all, in the closing text crawl, Mehta reveals that these practices still go on today. Why, then, is the film set in 1938? So that we get a gratuitous Gandhi cameo at the climax!

Mehta apparently faced considerable opposition in making this film, which Fox Searchlight is only too happy to exploit in its promotional campaign. It's disheartening that all her trouble resulted in this meek, compromised film.

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