FRIDAY REVIEW

Too elegant to make an impact - Water

ON THE WIDOWS OF VARANASI: Water  



Genre: Drama
Director: Deepa Mehta
Cast: Seema Biswas, John Abraham, Lisa Ray and Sarala
Storyline: An eight-yearold is sent to a widow house in Benares after her husband dies
Bottomline: It is more exotic than informativeAs you watch the lovely Kalyani (Lisa Ray) delicately sweep the ground with her palm as she prays, the almost dance-like move gives away the intention of `Water'.The choice of theme itself - the renunciation of the world forced upon hapless widows - though a serious issue that still perseveres, could be categorised along with the practice of 'sati' through the eyes of the British - an alien practice of an alien nation.Deepa Mehta presents the theme of the widows of Varanasi with a quiet elegance. (Thanks to the cinematography by Giles Nuttgens.) It's definitely not groundbreaking filmmaking, but once you watch it, you understand why film festivals and award ceremonies abroad would appreciate it.The story follows young Chuyia (Sri Lankan child star Sarala) to a Hindu widow house run by the fat, domineering Madhumati. As Chuyia can't even remember being married, she obviously doesn't take kindly to being stowed away, and disrupts the enforced calm of the ashram with her spirited disobedience. There she meets Kalyani, a beautiful widow.Kalyani is allowed to keep her thick, long hair, as she is prostituted to rich men across the river to maintain the ashram. Another widow Shakuntala (Seema Biswas, whose performance is the highlight of the film) takes young Chuyia under her wing.Into Kalyani's life comes a forward thinking lawyer Narayan (John Abraham), who floors her with his good looks and charm. Their love story is used as a pivot to illustrate the plight of widows and society's general outlook on the re-marriage of women.Mehta presents some interesting peripheral characters such as one old widow whose only desire is to fill her toothless mouth with laddoos and all the sweets she remembers savouring on her wedding day. Madhumati herself is well etched - she isn't just a tyrant in control, she is also a lonely woman longing for news of the world.The weakest part of the film is the allusion to Gandhiji. Perhaps if it were any other Indian leader, these references would be excused. However, after `Lage Raho Munnabhai', Gandhi as a reference point in films seem insincere.Just as in `Parzania,' released earlier this year, the Gandhiji angle appears forced in `Water'.The film is the last of Deepa Mehta's thematically unrelated trilogy (`Fire' and `Earth' were the first two). The hues are mostly greys, whites and blues, reflecting the calm of the film's title, though there are occasional subdued sprays of colour. The acting is reasonably good, but Seema Biswas stands out. It is hard to imagine that Shabana Azmi was to play her part in the first version that had to be canned due to political pressure in Varanasi. Azmi is too regal to manage resignation, something that Biswas channels well into her character. The film is shot in Sri Lanka, as Mehta was refused permission to do it in Varanasi. SUSAN MUTHALALY