I’m pretty omni-movirous, meaning I like a variety of movies, so long as they’re moderately plausible and the stories are well told. There are not many genres I avoid, really — given that I want a good plot and don’t want to suspend disbelief like a hangman working overtime. So when we put Water in our Netflix queue, I’m sure the review looked good to me, but the reality, when I sat down to watch it, was different.
It was Friday night, after another work week of hammering legal verbiage into impeccable form (or as close as I im-peckishly get) and once the flick started I wasn’t sure I was up for it.
It’s a period piece, starting in India in 1938, and the grim premise is that Hindu widows are to remain loyal to their dead husbands, never remarrying, living a shadowy half-life shunted away. Water begins with a child bride, Chuyia, being dropped off at the gated ashram where the widows live in poverty. Much of the movie is set in this dilipidated building and courtyard, and down along the Ganges, with the river becoming a recurring setting and force in the plot.
Frankly, about ten minutes in I thought, great, a movie about poverty and oppressed widows, is this the Friday night I’ve been working toward?
But I am omni-movirous (movi-omnirous?), don’t depart quickly, and the 8-year-old Chuyia was just rebellious enough against her fate to be compelling. As the personalities of the other widows become apparent, the story had enough conflict to keep me interested, and the plot thickened from there.
It’s unfair to say any of the widows are villains, I think. Yet there is villainy, in the name of survival. And in the last half of the movie the scope widens, as Mahatma Gandhi becomes a transcending politician in India and the question of tradition versus fairness is forced. All of the main characters are caught in this moral pressure, with the widows in particular grappling with the choice of being devout, true to their families and faith, and wanting their own lives back.
I won’t divulge anything more, not wanting to ruin the ending. But I have a benchmark for successful movies that I’ll mention.
I find that a lot of movies begin well. Yet that is often difficult to sustain; some element of the plot forces characters to do something implausible or stupid, stories become farcical or characters become 2-dimensional and cartoonish.
For me, it’s the unusual movie that becomes even better in its second half. Water is one of those.
The arc of the liberal male protagonist, and his surprising dilemma, along with the riveting final scene and a heartwrenching choice a widow makes at a train station where Gandhi speaks, elevates this movie above the commonplace.
If you want immediate gratification, this might not be the movie for you. If you want an action-packed story to grab you from the get-go and take you off on an upbeat ride, this isn’t for you. But if you want involvement in characters’ lives and conflicts as a story is sustained, depth is revealed, and the pay off is well worth your time, Water delivers wonderfully.