Some movies make you laugh, some others make you cry, some make you feel like you’re a part of the story that is being told, and some movie just need you to sit back and enjoy. But there are only a few movies that move you, and make you think and Water is one such movie.
Water, is the story of a widow. Actually, it is a story about the sad life led by many windows. Set in the 1940s, this movie is the tale of a ‘vidwa ashram’ (widow’s sanctuary) on the banks of Ganga. Kalyani (Lisa Ray) is a young, beautiful widow living in the ashram. Chuiya, a little girl of 7, the latest addition to the ashram, finds a friend in her. Kalyani hides a puppy in her room, dances with Chuiya in the rain, tells her that she can come and play with the pup anytime she wants if she doesn’t tell the other inmates about it, and recites poetry to her. All her actions express her longing to lead a normal life like all other girls her age. Narayan (John Abraham), a lawyer with Gandhian ideals, is attracted to her. Kalyani is forced to sleep with the rich men of the town by Madhumathi, a very senior inmate to help run the place. When Narayan proposes marriage to her, she realises, his father is one of the rich men she’s slept with. Unable to return to her old life at the ashram, she commits suicide by drowning in Ganga.
The only inmate of the ashram who supports Kalyani’s desire to get married to Narayan is Shakuntala (Seema Biswas). She is a brahmin widow who opposes Madhumathi’s actions in the ashram. After Kalyani’s death, she takes Chuiya under her wings. Days after reaching the ashram, Chuiya’s desire to go back to her parents is very strong. Taking advantage of this, Madhumathi sends Chuiya to one of the rich men with Gulabi, the pimp. When the horrified Shakuntala rushes to save Chuiya, the damage is already done. She turns towards Gandhiji for help. The rest of the story is about how Shakuntala takes a strong stance to save Chuiya’s life and helps her get away from this hell.
Two actors steal show without a trace of doubt. Seema Biswas and the child who played Chuiya. Seema’s portrayl of crude kindness for Chuiya and a woman who’s caught between her faith and inner voice is brilliant. She’s lived Shakuntala’s life. Chuiya makes you laugh and cry with her. Her anger makes you want to hit Madhumathi and sympathise with her when she kills Madhu’s pet. The longing in the child’s eyes when she sees sweets and puris makes you want to hug her. Her sympathy and understanding makes me wonder if the world would’ve been a better place if we had all remained children. I have never really watched Lisa Ray on screen before. But she’s done a great job as Kalyani. Her coy eyes and her silent admiration for Narayan, the way she applies kajal from the soot of the lamp when she goes to meet him, portrays not a widow who’s stuck in living hell but a beautiful girl attracted to the man of her dreams. John Abraham is convincing as a Gandhian who wants to make a change. But when Kalyani dies, there is no sorrow in his eyes. Not even when he’s supposed to be mourning. This makes me wonder if another actor would’ve added to more depth and majesty to Narayan’s character.
The cinematography has beautifully captured the picturesque beauty on the banks of the holy river. The screenplay is slow but it doesn’t hamper the flow of the story that’s being told. But if you’re not a big fan of slow movies, Water is probably not for you then. Another major strength to the movie is the background score. Rahman’s songs gel perfectly with the story and only adds beauty to the movie.
Above all this, this movie made me think. It made me think about the society, our way of life and how lucky most of us are to be able to express ourselves and live the life we want to. I’m a great believer in tradition, heritage, culture and our age old beliefs. I think we all have a great role to play in preserving this culture and tradition and passing this on intact to the next generation. But does heritage mean closing our doors to changes? Like Narayan says, who decides what is good and what is bad? But the God that is supposed to be our savior and guardian, surely will not want any of his children to suffer the way these widow were made to suffer.
PS: I wrote this immediately after I watched the movie. Perhaps, I’m still reeling from the effect.