Nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar, Deepa Mehta’s humanist epic melds with her previous movies, EARTH (1998) and FIRE (1998), to form a trilogy worthy of her Indian role model, Satyajit Ray.
India, 1938. Chuyia (Sarala), a mischievous but uncomprehending child bride who can't even recall her own marriage ceremony, becomes widowed at the age of seven. Tradition dictates that she can throw herself on a funeral pyre, marry the deceased’s younger brother or accept the life as a shunned outcast exile at a house for discarded widows. In this monastic outpost, the residents live according to strict rules mposed by the society that despises them, and must resign themselves to the life of poverty and loneliness accorded to all "untouchables." With her head shaved and donning the simple white widow's sari she'll wear for the rest of her life, rambunctious Chuyia's incessant questioning "Where's the house for men widows?" gets on the nerves of the other women, including the gluttonous and foul-mouthed Madhumati (Manorama) and Patiraji (Vidula Javalgekar), a toothless "Auntie" who fixates of the sweets she enjoyed at her own wedding at the age of 7. Only the serene and pious Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) and the rebellious Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a young beauty who refuses to cut her hair and keeps a forbidden dog as a pet, befriend the hoyden. However, solidarity doesn’t bloom easily in an environment in which women are reduced to beg to survive: Madhumati pressures Kalyani to prostitute herself to the gentry in order to feed her sister widows. However much Indian society may revile these "half dead" women, public righteousness regarding untouchables has no place in their private bedrooms. One day Kalyani makes the acquaintance of a handsome scholar named Narayan (John Abraham). An acolyte of the young Nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi, Naryaan rails against the British Raj and criticizes the cruelly outmoded social customs, including attitudes toward widows. Narayan and Kalyani are immediately attracted to each other, but their affair must remain clandestine: Second marriages for widows are prohibited, and neither Narayan’s folks nor Madhumati share Narayan’s progressive views. Perhaps Chuyia will one day benefit from changes proposed by Gandhi. For now, Narayan must persuade a terrified Kalyani to take a bold leap of faith in order to overcome her dreary fate.
A pariah in Hindu fundamentalist circles, the Indian-born, Toronto-based Mehta continues to explore taboo subject matter, even after riots rocked screenings of the lesbian-themed FIRE and on-the-set sabotage led to a five-year postponement in shooting WATER. While decrying economic inequity and chauvinism in India’s patriarchal society, Mehta celebrates the beauty of Hindu culture and the Indian landscape through the eyes of Gilles Nuttgens, her dazzlingly expressive cinematographer. Unlike her churlish critics, this staunchly feminist director’s world-view is all-embracing, yet bravely unapologetic.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar, Deepa Mehta’s humanist epic melds with her previous movies, EARTH (1998) and FIRE (1998), to form a trilogy worthy of her Indian role model, Satyajit Ray. India, 1938. Chuyia (Sarala), a mischievous but… (more)