Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Movie of the week:

Sometimes what seems like a good idea at one time, doesn’t seem so wise when you look at it much later.

I remember an episode of The Twilight Zone, about a couple who were having financial problems. Suddenly, a man appeared at their door with a box and offered them an interesting proposition. He would leave the box with them for a while, and if they pressed that button, he would return and give them a large sum of money. However – as a consequence, someone that they did not know and had never met, would die. This is an interesting dilemma. The decision to press the button couldn’t possibly affect them – they would probably not even hear of the death. And besides, people die every day – maybe it was their time to die. They were so far removed from that person that, in the end, they pushed the button. But, of course in the end, it did effect them.

No sooner had they pressed the button, the man was at the door with their money. He collected the box and turned to go. The couple asked him, “Did someone die?” “Yes, of course. But don’t worry, it wasn’t anyone you know or have met.” “And,” they persisted, “Will you give the box to someone else?” “Yes, of course,” he answered. “Who will you give it to?” “Someone you don’t know, or have ever met”, he replied.

WATER takes place in India in the late 1930’s. It illustrates the plight of widows in traditional Hindu society. According to Holy Scriptures, a widow had three choices upon her husband’s death. She can either marry his younger brother (apparently, an older brother just won’t do), or she can join him on his funeral pyre (I wonder if they expected many women to go this route), or she can go to live in an Ashram ( a refuge where widows live in poverty and self denial for the rest of their lives, to atone for the sin of – I don’t know – widowness – or widoletry, I guess). In the Ashram, women support themselves by begging on the street or by prostitution (I guess widow=prostitute according to Holy Scripture). I suppose when they first thought this up, it seemed like a good idea. It’s a good bet that no widows were on that committee. I’m sure that it was easy for the Holy Scripturers to draft up this policy because it didn’t direct affect them. They didn’t have to think past themselves to be convinced of the logic. Widows are inconvenient – what to do? Marry them off, or kill them, or stow them away out of sight, or turn them into prostitutes. They never thought of the consequences. They never thought about what happens to the box with the button after they were done with it.

The story is told through the eyes of 9-year-old Chuyia. At the age of – I don’t know, maybe 5 – she was given to a man in marriage. By the age of 9, she was a widow. She never remembered getting married. She didn’t remember her husband. And she doesn’t understand that she faces spending the entirety of the rest of her life in the Ashram with the other widows. “How awful!” you say. “How utterly and heartbreakingly depressing!”

….but it’s not.

If there were no redeeming value to this film, I would not be able to recommend it. There are two bright shining lights in the otherwise darkness of the widow house. One is Kalyani, a young woman of extraordinary beauty, who takes it upon herself to look after Chuyia. WATER is mostly a story about her. While it is customary for the women to shave their heads in the house, Kalyani is allowed to keep her hair intact. This is so that the house elder can pimp her out for sex to wealthy men, and thus raise money for food. She does it willingly (what choice does she have?), but she keeps her spirits up and one day it may be possible to escape.

The other bright beacon is Shakuntala, an older woman who seems stern at first, but becomes a mother figure for the young girl. In the end, it is she who acts decisively when things go horribly wrong.

It’s interesting that even though not as widespread, the widow policy is still in practice today. I figure that there must be some unconscious guilt going on because this film was banned in India and Pakistan. Although taking place in India, this film is not specifically an indictment of Hindu society. This is probably true of any society that has no place for women outside of marriage

So why watch it? It’s gorgeously filmed. It’s uplifting (in spite of my rant above). It’s an enjoyable watch – so watch it.

WATER (in Hindi, with subtitles).


At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are the ten reasons to watch this film? Are you slacking here? I haven't seen a list in weeks. I like lists. Where are the lists? Five Reasons to reinstate the list:

1. Lists are good

2. Lists organize things, like thoughts, which are usually unorganized, and can lead to people randomly rambling on in a conversation, like that time I was on the bus, and the guy with the big hunk of deli meat was cutting pieces off and asked me if I wanted some, probably because I looked hungry, which of course I was, because I was homeless, even though I wasn't technically a widow. You know what I mean?

3. Your Lists were generally funny.

4. Ok - Funny might be a stretch, but they were entertaining in their own way.

5. LIST is a nice four letter word, and no-body gets mad if you use it in Church or anything.

Good reviews, but please bring back the list.


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