September 30, 2005


Reviewed by Martin Tsai at the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival

Following Fire (1996) and Earth (1998), director Deepa Mehta finally completes her acclaimed and controversial "elements" trilogy with Water. The devastating depictions of gender disparity and religious turmoil in India incited right-wing Hindu fundamentalists to stage protests, ransack theatres, issue death threats and even force the shutdown of the 2000 production of this final series installment. The director went on to make the lightweight Bollywood/Hollywood and The Republic of Love before returning to Water – this time filming secretly in Sri Lanka.

Hindu holy texts dictate that a wife has only three options upon the death of her husband: She must either burn with his remains, remarry his younger brother, or live the remainder of her life in self-denial. Set in Colonial-era India inside a house for spurned widows, Water continues the trilogy's exploration of the culture's historically unspoken and unchallenged hypocrisies. Mehta's determination obviously deserves admiration, and her new film is certainly an eye-opener for outsiders. At the same time, it lacks the moral ambiguity and multidimensional characters of the two predecessors. Employing a child's perspective (à la Earth), a Romeo/Juliet-esque doomed romance, a dastardly villain and an unsettling tangent involving coerced prostitution, it often seems like Water is dripping with manipulation.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.