I would like to recommend this film called 'Water' by an Indian woman director to all BKs as it is set in 1938 at the time of the start of the Yagya. Although the subject matter is deeply upsetting, it is also a very beautiful, touching movie. It is a romantic tragedy with a social conscience, or weepie as we call them.
It is guaranteed to move all but the most stone hearted to tears, especially, anyone that has had a birth or 83 in India and is a woman or has had a recent female birth, if only because we know the reality of 10,000 times worse and still continues to this day. It is also a film of historical significance that created such turmoil is the cesspit of India that I believe that it still cannot be shown there. It took five years to be films after rioting Hindu funidmentalists burnt the original sets down ... including the use of a professional "suicide artist" that has done many similar stunts at other politcal rallies. It then had to be filed in Buddhist Sri Lanka.
The story is based around three women; an eight-year old Chuyia (Sarala), the extraordinarily beautiful but kept illiterate Kalyani (Lisa Ray), and the devout, middle-aged prot-feminist Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) who also starred in movie above called "The Bandit Queen". It is about the subject of child brides and the mistreatment of widows in India under the rule of Hinduism. All three women were married to adult men and became widows as children as a young as 8 years old.
At 8 years old Chuiya, the star of the movie, is a newly widowed bride who is sent to an ashram in Varanasi (Benares, as we knew it). It is ruled by a strict Senior Sister Mataji many will remember such like from a BK center ... they all wear white saris of death and renunciation and are limted according to the "Laws of Manu" under which a women had three options:
- throwing themselves on the funeral pyre with their husband,
living a life of poverty and chastity,
or (if available) marrying the dead husband's brother.
However, as we discover, caste and religious hypocrisy are rife as it turns out the beautiful Kalyani, widowed during her childhood has been forced into prostitution to support the ashram by the Senior Sister Mataji of the ashram, and the Mataji's non-Shrimat indulgences. The client is a rich Brahmin businessman who believes that Brahmins are allowed to sleep without whoever they wish and that any women they sleep with of a lower caste is blessed by the experience. These women live in a life of purgatory.
Deepa Metha could not produce the film in India. She had to come to The West to do so, even it used a Bollywood cast. Indians perceived Metha as "an agent of a worldwide conspiracy to destablize Hinduism, by producing a film to condemn the glorious civilizations of the Indus valley and to portray the rituals like the 'Suttee Pooja' (the burning of widows), child marriages and widows as barbaric" thus making public a whole range of practices that would be condemned by the West.
Deepa Metha's film 'Water' probes deep into the mysteries of barbaric rituals of an ancient civilization, which cannot comprehend the vulgarity and the barbarity of these practices. The West ... by which really the Indians mean the British, had always treated the Indian society, specially their practices of the Suttee pooja and child marriages, with contempt. Indeed, it was the British that brought in legislation to prevent such degradation and banned both the Suttee and child marriages.
The film makes us to face the reality of women's suffering in India due to Hindu beliefs. The rituals, dogmas and the oppressive selfish attitudes that keep these barbaric traits alive in the name of culture. It was said, Deepa Metha makes them look like "vermin in a cesspit". But the positive influence of the West, culture, liberalism as well as Gandhian and nationalist reform are creeping around the edges of this movie giving hope and light, challengin the oppressors. They killed him too.
In India, the man has the foremost position in a family, traditionally the husband is akin to a living God. The 'Suttee Pooja', the self immolation of a widow, jumping into the funeral pyre of her husband, could only be described as an act of utter barbarism. Even today, the Hindu fundamentalist, reading the scriptures of 'Stri Dharma', would recite chapter and verse to defend this act as an integral part of their culture which they say dates back more than 5000 years. It includes the belief that the ideal wife is one whose sole joy in life is to satisfy the husband and is attached to him even after death.
There is a reminder at the end that at the present time there are approximately 24 million women, widows, living in similar circumstances. Others put the figure as high as 40 million, denounced by society, condemned by their own culture, ostracized from their families for whom they are an unwanted expense; and made to live the life of beggary and penury.