Thursday, July 06, 2006

Film: Water

In 2000, I read about Water, the third film in Deepa Mehta's trilogy about women in India. It has finally been released this summer. Set in 1938, it examines the lives of widows, who are condemned to a marginal existence, living in an ashram and dependent on begging (and prostitution) in order to survive. The main character becomes a widow at the age of seven.

The initial filming had to be scrapped because of the political pressure of fundamentalist protests against its negative depiction of Hindu traditions. Filming resumed four years later in Sri Lanka rather than India, and after additional funds could be raised.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the story and social background are sufficiently complex to make the film worth assigning in women's studies classes.

The political background to the making of the film adds another interesting layer. The reason that protesters gave for burning the set and causing location permissions to be revoked was that the film pandered to an outdated Western vision of India as a land of child brides and social stratification. But widow houses do still exist in Varanasi, the first film location. Certainly, in addition to depicting the social situation of widows in India in 1938, the film invites viewers around the globe to reflect on forms of social exclusion in their own communities.

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