UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of Mongrel Media


Canadian director reveals the exquisite beauty of India amidst Hindu fundamentalism

By David Wilson

Directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham and Sarala Kariyawasam
(Deepa Mehta Films)

Of the three films that make up Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s trilogy about India’s struggle to reconcile past and present, none probes deeper into the country’s conflicted soul than Water, a searing indictment of the patriarchal underpinnings of Hindu fundamentalism in the waning days of the British Raj.

The opening film in the trilogy, Fire (1996), was the first Indian film to deal openly with homosexuality. The second, Earth (1998), depicted the violent turmoil that followed the partition of India in 1947. Set in the northern city of Varanasi in 1938, Water (2005) explores the institutionalized oppression of women.

Following an ancient orthodox custom, a child named Chuyia is married to an older man. She is only eight when he dies and has little memory of him or her wedding. Yet she is sent, terrified, to live in an ashram for widows — her penalty for sins supposedly committed in a previous life that led to her husband’s untimely death.

Under traditional Hindu law, she must spend the rest of her life in the ashram, atoning for bad karma. But religious laws cannot prevent her from forming close ties with other widows. One is the wise Shakuntala, a holy man’s assistant who questions religious traditions that turn innocent widows into lifelong outcasts. Another is Kalyani, a beautiful young woman who is sold into prostitution by the ashram’s domineering headmistress. Through Chuyia, Kalyani meets a handsome young law student who’s a passionate follower of Gandhi.

They fall in love, their affair a defiant challenge to the status quo that exacts a tragic cost. Yet their love also inspires a selfless act of bravery, pointing to a more hopeful and just future for widows like Chuyia, for women generally and for India itself.

The film unfolds poetically amid lush hues bathed in golden light. The exquisite beauty of the finished product contrasts starkly with the ugliness that attended its making. Protesters destroyed the main film set before shooting even began, and Mehta received numerous death threats. Only after changing the title and cast and moving the production to Sri Lanka was she able to complete the film. That it was made at all is a testimony to her courage. It’s more than apt that courage in the face of religious oppression should form one of the film’s central themes.

Can't find this DVD at your local video store? Try ordering it online at www.chapters.indigo.ca or at www.hmv.ca.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image