After 2002’s abysmal effort at cinema fusion Bollywood/Hollywood, Toronto based Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta serves up Water, the final part of her elements trilogy. The good news for those who missed Fire (1996) and Earth (1998) is that this is a trilogy in its most loose and ambiguous form as the movies are not connected by characters or storyline but thematically.
Set in 1938, Mehta’s moving, engrossing film plucks at the heartstrings from the moment eight-year-old Chuyia (Sarala) is asked by her father if she remembers getting married, only to then be informed that the husband she will never know has died. The girl is sent to an Ashram run by a despotic old woman, Madhumati (Manorma), who ignores the law of the land that stipulates that widows can remarry. Madhumati’s stranglehold over the women is, however, about to be challenged as never before.
During the filming of Water in Varanasi, India, word got out that this film was a rebuke of outmoded social traditions. Consequently, production of the film was delayed for years by protestors who staged demonstrations, torched the sets and threatened Mehta’s life.
The result is a film that feels slightly compromised, but a riveting tearjerker that’s stunning to look at and registers more than a passing nod to Indian master filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s remarkable 1964 melodrama Charulata.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 1 Jun.