Set against the social landscape of 1938, Water focuses on the struggle of three Indian widows who are customarily forced to disconnect themselves from society. For seven-year-old Chuyia, this custom is especially difficult to comprehend.
As a child, Chuyia is married off to a man she has no recollection of marrying. After her husband dies, Chuyia's parents deliver her to a home for widows, where she is introduced into a life where love and living are banned.
It is through Chuyia that director Mehta symbolically displays the punitive nature of customs towards women. Although Chuyia is still obviously a child, ancient law dictates that she lead her life as if she were dead.
Even though the other widows, including Shakuntula and Kalyani, appear to have helplessly accepted their fate, Chuyia's arrival arouses their restlessness. And so does Mahatma Gandhi, whose revolutionary ideals and principles hum in the background.
Narayan is the film's conduit for politics. He is a modern man from a very affluent household, whose university education has trained him to be anything but conservative. He spreads Gandhi's concerns about dismantling the customs that oppress those such as child brides and widows.
His love for Narayan is strong, his passion for Gandhi is deep, but customs seem to be made of iron. His influence doesn't go unheeded, however. Through his commitment to marry his love against his community's will, he expresses the deepest sympathies for the widows' plight, politically and emotionally.
Water's theme of cultural oppression may seem loaded but it is through a subtle rendering of everyday life that Mehta makes the point so sharp, without having to resort to sermonizing. It is after the film that one may leave processing its greater success as an allegory.
Watching Water , one can become easily entranced by all its rich colors; how it cinematically captures the seasons; how it captivates the luscious natural environment in day and night. In a word, the cinematography is stunning and nonetheless, critical to its grandeur.
The initial filming of Water was shut down in India by protesters who attacked it on grounds of being anti-Hindu. Due to the controversy, the production was stalled for four years and relocated to Sri Lanka. The completion of Water became a personal mission for Mehta, sustained by the perils that still continue to plague widows in modern day India.
It is estimated that 33 million widows are living within its borders, many of which are still customarily decreed to live an isolated life of poverty. The sacred Hindu texts are estimated to be over 2,000 years old and as Water poignantly demonstrates, change is not easy but it is necessary.