The promise of Water

The absence of an authentic locale is a handicap. The romance is rather one-dimensional but the saving grace is the stunning climax, writes Ervell E. Menezes

Water made news for the wrong reasons
Water made news for the wrong reasons

Deepa Mehtaís Water, the last of the trilogy (the others are Fire and Earth), made news for the wrong reasons when Hindu extremists disrupted the shooting of the film in Varanasi. She later shot it in Sri Lanka.

Dealing with the Indian custom of sending widows (even child widows) to live in abject misery in a home in the Holy City of Varanasi, Water is imbued with an unlikely but idyllic love story between one of its beautiful young inmates Kalyani (Lisa Ray) and an idealistic lawyer Narayan (John Abraham) whose path accidentally crosses hers and is immediately smitten by love.

Seen through the eyes of the newest and youngest inmate Chuyia it covers a lot of ground but the establishing shots are weak and the first half of the film limps. It is only the enigmatic Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) who holds the film together and her timely intervention enables Kalyani to choose her destiny with Narayan, which leads to the dramatic twist in the plot. The greedy old Madhumati comes across strongly but many of the other cameos are ineffective. The intent of course is noble but even nobility must be supported with relevant data.

The absence of an authentic locale (the imposing burning ghats of Varanasi) is another handicap. The romance is rather one-dimensional but the saving grace is the stunning climax and the powerful statement debunking the inanity and hypocrisy of that archaic custom. Seema Biswas, however, does an excellent job. Initially subdued, she grows in stature with each frame and reiterates the fact that her Bandit Queen performance was no accident.

How can a widow under such strict scrutiny manage to go and meet her boyfriend? Why does the strict Madhumati suddenly relent? Is there need for the Gandhi episode at the fag end? These are some of the questions raised. Giles Nuttgens caressing camerawork is as soothing as it is distracting but it is the drama in the last quarter that salvages the film.

Lisa Ray does her best to make the role believable but she isnít helped much by John Abraham who is too stiff by contrast. May be it is a case of miscasting. Seema Biswas clearly reiterates her class. The youngster who plays Chuyia is promising but were Waheeda Rehman and Gerson daCunha really required?

A subject as weighty as this surely needed a more focused treatment.