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Friday, May 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Water" is glistening, deep and moving

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Water," with Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham, Sarala. Written and directed by Deepa Mehta. 114 minutes. In Hindi with English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual situations, and for brief drug use. Seven Gables.

Slipping into theaters with little fanfare is a movie that caused a huge uproar a world away. Deepa Mehta's "Water," set in 1938 India, focuses on a "widow house": a place where widows were sent to live, banished from society following the death of their husbands.

Hindu fundamentalists, angered by Mehta's depiction of what they said was a bygone practice (she has countered, in interviews, that it is not), disrupted the film's 2000 production, destroying the sets and burning Mehta in effigy. Production shut down, to reopen four years later in Sri Lanka under a fake title. Two more years later, "Water" is finally here.

It's a quiet film to have caused such a reaction, and an often lyrical and lovely one. At its center is Chuyia (Sarala), an 8-year-old girl with bright eyes and a round, baby face. A tiny bride, she is now a widow and subjected to the mortifications of widowhood: Her bracelets are removed, her hair shorn, her vivid red blouse changed for plain white robes. Brought to the widow house, she doesn't understand what's happening to her. "My mother's coming to get me," she says confidently, to anyone who will listen.

The only child in the house, Chuyia must adjust to a quiet world of women and poverty. She befriends Kalyani (the exquisite Lisa Ray), a young widow allowed to maintain her beauty (her long hair has not been cut) so that she can work as a prostitute to help support the house. The days are long, the nights are still. Near the house is a river, which in the evenings glows a vivid, almost dangerous blue.

Shimmeringly filmed by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, much of "Water" glides along like that river, calm and quiet. But other currents appear: We hear the voice of Gandhi, who dares to say, "Widows should not be strangers to love." A love interest appears for Kalyani, a danger arises for Chuyia and the film's wrenching final scene conveys both tragedy and hope for a better world.

Mehta's film is courageous and reticent, a shout masquerading as a whisper.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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