Water (2005)

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Released 6-Feb-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Alternative Version-English Version of the Film
Audio Commentary-Director Deepa Mehta
Deleted Scenes
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 112:02 (Case: 115)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Deepa Mehta

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Lisa Ray
Seema Biswas
Kulbhushan Kharbanda
Waheeda Rehman
Raghuvir Yadav
Vinay Pathak
Rishma Malik
John Abraham
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music Mychael Danna
A.R. Rahman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown Hindi Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


A widow should be long suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste.
A virtuous wife who remains chaste when her husband has died goes to heaven.
A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is reborn in the womb of a jackal.

The laws of Manu, chapter 5, verse 156 – 161 Dharamshastras (Sacred Hindu texts)

Water is the third film in a series by a Canadian/Indian director Deepa Mehta. Aficionados of world cinema may remember Fire in 1996 and Earth in 1998. Both films looked at some unfair aspects of the Hindu religion and were considered controversial in mother India.

In fact, Mehta began shooting Water in India in 1999 only to have the production shut down. Hindu fundamentalists feared another attack on their religion and destroyed the sets, ironically dumping them into the river. George Lucas was moved to place a full page ad in Variety begging for religious tolerance for Mehta to be able to complete her film.

As the superb commentary from the director relates the film began shooting again a few years later. This time the sets were built in Buddhist Sri Lanka and the film experienced some cast changes due to the delay. So why all the fuss? Water, which is set in 1938 deals with the traditionalist Hindu approach to widows. As one of the characters in the film explains, the law passed down from God (extracted above) is that a widow has very few choices. If the family permits she may marry the youngest brother of the deceased. If not, then she must spend her life living as an ascetic, in communes with other widows, to be shunned by the rest of society.

In fact, there is a third option: the widow can choose to throw herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. Setting the story in 1938 allows Mehta to provide some measure of hope in that the date coincides with the rise of Gandhi who was destined to attack some of the religious dogma which created great inequality. Even so, as the final titles remind us, there are currently 34,000,000 widows living in India and most still live in disadvantaged conditions.

Water was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film at the 2006 Oscars losing out, not to the favourite Pans Labyrinth, but the German film The Lives of Others. Despite the Indian setting it was the official nominee of Canada.

As the film opens we are introduced to Chuiya played by newcomer Sarala. She is 8 years old. She is a child bride. Her husband has died and her father is breaking the bad news “Do you remember getting married?” He asks. “No” she replies. When told of her husband’s death and that she is now a widow she innocently asks for how long she will be a widow and when she can see her mother again. Her father is distraught but also resolute. But even he cannot explain to her that she will be a widow for the rest of her life. She will never see her parents again.

Not without feeling he watches her having her head shaved and takes her to an Ashram for widows. There we are introduced to the range of personalities of these lost women. There is Madhumati, the imperious head of the Ashram. Though she cares for the other women she is quite happy to take the advantages of leadership. There is an old women who was also a child bride. She remembers the only real moment of joy in her life when she had sweets on her wedding day. The moral backbone and emotional heart of the commune is found in Shakuntala (Seema Biswas). She is deeply religious and entirely respectful of the word of God but is frequently troubled by the thought that a loving god could not have wanted her, and other women, to live their lives this way.

Finally, there is Kalyani (Lisa Ray) a beautiful young woman who is also accepting of her fate. She is the only women in the Ashram without a shaved head and the reasons become obvious when we see Madhumati visited regularly by a local eunuch who acts as a pimp for rich men in the area. Whilst it is a sin for men to marry widows it is certainly no sin to sleep with them and the Ashram derives part of its income from prostitution.

Mehta shows us these women at a time of change for them all. Not only is Gandhi travelling around India gathering support for a freer application of religious values but the young Chuiya has a profound effect on some of the women, awakening in them some desire for freedom. Finally, a young man from a wealthy Brahmin family returns from his law studies and is immediately smitten by Kalyani.

Water is a story of love and understanding as well as the tragedy associated with intolerance and slavish adherence to archaic values for the sake of tradition. It is a slow film but one that resonates through the gentle direction of Metha and well measured performances from the actors. The cast is a mixture of experienced Bollywood actors, international performers such as Ray as well as non-actors. Some may recognise Seema Biswas as having played Phoolan Devi in the international hit Bandit Queen. One and all the actors are engaging and only occasionally does the script and the performances step over the line into classic Indian melodrama.

Water, of course is the dominant image in the film. The Ashram is close to the holy river and we see the daily bathing rituals as well as the use of water in religious observations. As the director says in the commentary, water in the film is both a cleansing force but also a means for the spread of harmful thoughts and influences.

It is difficult to say whether my next comments should be in the section relating to the feature or that relating to the extras. This is a 2 DVD edition of the film. The first DVD contains the Hindi version of the movie. The second DVD contains the English version of the film. Before anyone cries sacrilege and throws their hands in the air it is important to know that the English version is not a dub of the original movie but rather a fully realised film. Whilst on set Mehta shot both versions at the same time.

Whilst I will comment on the differences between the 2 versions at more length below the fact is that they are both independent works of art. Although the risk was that the actors would be forced to speak in unnatural tongues it must be remembered that Chuiya is acted by a Sri Lankan girl who spoke neither English nor Hindi and learned both scripts phonetically and that Lisa Ray is predominantly an English speaker.

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Transfer Quality


    Water is presented on DVD at its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

This is a superbly shot film and the transfer is equally as special. Whether it is the golden sunsets or the driving rain (actually six guys on the roof with hoses according to the director) or just the women sitting around in their pure white saris this is a clean and crisp film with excellent contrasts and clear and attractive use of colour. Mehta goes into detail in the commentary about her desire to emphasise the cool greens and blues.

The skin tones of the actors are realistic and the black levels are deep.

There are no problems with the source print and there are no artefacts in sight.

It is fair to say that Water presents the subcontinent in its best light. Mehta has stressed the clean and beautiful tree lined river. Even the beggars look neat!

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   The sound for Water is Hindi Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kb/s.

The commentary track and the English version are both 2.0 affairs with the commentary running at 192 Kb/s and the English track at 224 Kb/s.

Dialogue is clear and appears to be in sync.

The surrounds are only used for a few effects such as the occasional storm and the train at the end of the film. Nevertheless the mix feels deep and expansive.

The music is by Michael Dyanna, a favourite of Atom Egoyan. He creates a rich flow of themes based around traditional Indian sounds. There are also songs throughout ( but no Bollywood musical numbers!)

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Alternate Version

The English version is an enjoyable watch if somewhat disconcerting. Call me a cultural imperialist but I tend to prefer my Indian actors speaking Hindi. The film is shot in a similar way but at 109.50 it is 2.12 minutes shorter than the Hindi version. I could not tell exactly which bits were cut but I did notice a few differences in the presentation.

Firstly, the dialogue is slightly different. Sometimes it is only a word or two but sometimes the point of the scene is changed or has a different feel. Take, for example, the moment between father and daughter quoted above. In the English version the father does not ask whether Chuiya remembers her wedding.

On Chuiya's first night at the ashram she speaks to the old lady. In the Hindi version the old woman describes a beating she suffered for giggling at the wedding. In the English version she says that she was told she was the most beautiful bride in the World.

I did not notice any obvious ADR work in the Hindi version but it was certainly there in the English version. In the scene between the old lady and Chuiya referred to above there was some obvious dubbing. Whether that was because the actor said the wrong thing or the dialogue was indistinct I don't know.

Finally, the actors seem a bit uncomfortable and hammy when speaking in English, in particular John Abraham who otherwise did a pretty good job of playing Narayan.

My overall impression is that the English version was a bold attempt but ultimately it cannot be preferred to the Hindi version.

Audio Commentary

The commentary by director Deepa Mehta is enjoyable and informative. Not only does she detail the making of the film but she also gives some insight into the Indian culture behind the film which assists the casual viewer in understanding some of the rituals. The problems behind the making of the film are related in some detail. The real reason why this is a superior director’s commentary is that the director appears to have had a more hands on approach to the work than your average Hollywood filmmaker. Interestingly, the set constructed for the film cost $60,000.00 and occupied 2 kms of land adjoining the river.

Using Bollywood actors has its own challenges. Accordingly to Mehta a typical Bollywood actor may be shooting 4 films at once. All the films are overdubbed therefore there is little pressure on the actors to learn lines. The male lead in Water apparently became a star for the film after Water and is know for his black leather "bad boy" look as well as his beautiful singing voice. The actor who played Madhumati chalked this up as her 1301st film role!

She details the importance of music to the film as well as the extra time taken to get the lighting just right. Again, she comments that Bollywood films are usually shot with simple lighting and single takes. She too struggled with the desire to just accept the first take and move on. There was definitely only one take for the scene where Kalyani has her lovely long hair chopped short as a punishment for daring to associate with a man.

The logistics of the film sounded quite complex. For one scene at a railway station featuring Gandhi they had to marshal 15,000 extras, dress them like northern Indians from the period and obtain a Gandhi look-alike (who apparently opens shopping centres in India ) to appear as the great leader himself.

This is a commentary worth your investment for a film that, according to the director, poses the simple yet complex question:

“What happens when our conscience conflicts with our faith?”

Deleted Scenes

There are two deleted scenes on the DVD. One features Narayan is earnest discussion with his mother about marriage. The other is an extended version of the scene where Chuiya brings a note from Narayan to Kalyani. They realise that neither of them can read it.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   Water has been released in Region 1 US in a single DVD edition. It contains the film with the commentary and two extra features being:

• Behind-the-Scenes (21:13)
• The Story Behind the Making of Water (4:16)

In Canada there is a truly special 2 disc edition which contains the English version and the above features together with “Scanning the Movies” a 2 part TV special , deleted scenes and a DTS soundtrack.

The Canadian edition would seem to be the go for viewers who want the most out of the film.


    Water is a deeply felt movie which deserves a wider audience than the festival circuit.

The film is impeccably transferred to DVD in respect of both sound and vision.

The extra DVD may be a mixed blessing depending on whether you wish to see the film in English. There is no doubting, however, the quality of the directors commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

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