The final part of Deepa Mehta's elemental trilogy, Water, in Hindu with English subtitles, is deeply satisfying on many levels. It combines historical conflict, philosophical reasoning, politics, and religion in ways that is wrenching and heartfelt. Even the forces of extremist groups and the government of India couldn't keep it from being made.
The setting is 1938 India when Gandhi is about to start the independence movement after being released from prison. Mehta's involving tale centers on Hindu widows living in Rawalpur in what is called an ashram.
An ashram is similar to a convent, but more like an impoverished orphanage. At the start, we see innocent 8-year-old Chuyia with a sickly middle-age fellow riding a cart. She's in disbelief about a question her father asks her once he passes away and is taken to a walled enclosure for widows.
Mehta has one observe over a dozen sequestered widows with Chuyia the youngest and the oldest over 80. With close-cropped hair and donning white saris, these widows are allowed one meal per day and stand in the streets asking for coins.
Seema Biswas is quite a revelation as Shakuntula who shows Chuyia the ropes, but the youngster isn't fond of the imperious, plump Madhumanti. Madumanti is an elderly widow who has a lavish appetite. She chats often with eunich Gulabi, an effeminate-looking pimp for the comely Kalyani (Lisa Ray), the widow prostituted by mother superior "Fatty."
Kalyani is able to have longer tresses due to her clandestine function, and supports the younger Chuyia. The primary male figure is a disciple of Gandhi, Narayan (John Abraham), who lives across the river with his upper-class parents. Mehta sets up a scenario of Narayan and Kalyani that keeps up engaged with this compelling historical drama that finds humor in daily life.
Water really has these women formulating truth in characters as Sri Lankan child actor Sarala is a presence of Chuyia who asks one guru, "Where is the house of men widows?" How these widows struggle is really evident in the case of Shakuntala, a Hindu traditionalist dealing with her conscience. The increasing poignancy comes as Hindu songs. And, Biswas is a standout in her social cause and spirituality that makes a sweeping, elegant picture something to reflect on, not just from how it's bookended from Hindu text and the plight of millions of widows in India.