In 1938, a little girl, hardly ten years of age, is relegated to the destitute status of a widow, has all her hair blatantly cut off and sent to reside in an impoverished temple entirely reserved for widows. The movie ‘Water’ apparently casts a light on the face and reality of India prior to World War II. It highlights conflicts amid traditions, culture, race, colour, caste and creed. Gender issues have existed for centuries and India is no stranger to them.
According to the movie, a widow in ancient times of India had three options available. First, she could allow herself to be cremated along with her deceased husband; second, she could marry his brother, if feasible and third, she could retire or take refuge in widows’ Ashram to serve as a form of punishment for sins concerning their husbands’ death. Chuhya, a nine year old girl has the third option available and is unfortunately disconnected from her parents to live in the widows’ temple.
The movie highlights the miserable plight of widows who are reduced to horrendous, substandard living conditions – beggary and prostitution. In these atrocious and inexcusable circumstances, widows are denied freedom of choice, rights and privileges which gravely contradict the protocols of the European Convention of Human Rights. In this case, widows were forlornly treated as women who merely lost their husbands, not purely as human beings. The movie shows that the life of a widow in ancient India was bleak, despondent and downcast. They were not catered to their needs and denied appropriate access to healthcare. This is evident when an old woman tragically passes away owing to a fatal sickness. They were socially, economically and culturally deprived. Discrimination among genders is noticeable owing to the fact that there was no concept of a widower’s temple. A temple for spouses who lost their partners was only reserved for women, not men.
Another underlined issue is that of child marriage. This reflects a turbulent time period in ancient India when young girls were married off by poor, ignorant and illiterate families. Chuhya can scarcely comprehend what really is happening to her. It is distressing to watch a little girl susceptible to the influences of her parents and wretchedly detached from them for entirely no fault of her own.
The movie further accentuates the dilemma of society’s expectation of beauty of a woman – that is – a fair skin. When Narayan informs his mother about having met the girl of his dreams, he is questioned on whether the girl is fair complexioned. This demonstrates society’s utterly preposterous obsession with fairer women. It is the fair gender only which is by and large preferred for marriage.
We also witness a collision of caste discrimination and traditions. According to an Indian tradition, a widow was disallowed from remarrying. Second marriage was considered a sin and dishonor to the community.
Deepa Mehta successfully assembles specific social issues that plague and torment the society and illustrates them into a single movie. The underlined predicaments make it truly worthy of watching. It is very well acted out and it became hard to remember that it was simply a movie put forth and that the actors were not leading the dreadful life of the characters. The movie manifests those appalling conditions that seriously needed to be altered in order to contribute to a progressive society.