Water: A Masterpiece About the Lives of Widows in Pre-Gandhi India

1. Introduction

Water is a 2005 Canadian drama film directed by Deepa Mehta, with a screenplay by Anurag Kashyap. The film is set in pre-independence India in 1938 and explores the lives of widows at an ashram in Varanasi.
The film has been acclaimed for its cinematography, direction, performances and its depiction of Widows’ issues in pre-Gandhi India. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

2. Liberty and Prostitution

The film begins with the story of Madhumati ( Sarala Kariyawasam), a young widow who arrives at an ashram in Varanasi. She is one of the many widows who have been forced to live there after their husbands died.
The widows are not allowed to leave the ashram and are forced to wear white saris. They are also not allowed to remarry or have any contact with the outside world.
In the ashram, they are expected to perform daily chores and pray to Hindu Gods. However, some of the widows, including Madhumati, secretly work as prostitutes in order to make money.
Madhumati meets a man named Narayan (John Abrahams), who is a Brahmin and her father’s client in the prostitution business. Narayan is opposed to the caste system and believes that all humans are equal.
He falls in love with Madhumati and she begins to question the unfair treatment of widows. She also starts to feel trapped in the ashram and longs for freedom.

3. Widows, Dharma and Religious Geography

One of the themes in Water is dharma, which is the Hindu concept of duty or righteousness. The film shows how dharma can be used to justify discrimination against widows.
In one scene, Kalyani (Lisa Ray), another widow at the ashram, asks Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), the head widow, why they are not allowed to leave the ashram. Shakuntala tells her that it is their dharma to stay there and pray for their husbands’ souls.
She also says that if they leave, they will be reborn as animals because of their bad karma. This shows how dharma can be used to control people’s behavior and keep them from challenging social norms.
The film also explores religious geography, which is the relationship between religion and space. This is seen in the way that the widows are segregated from society based on their religion.
They are not allowed to interact with people from other religions or even step outside of their designated area in the ashram. This creates a physical barrier that reinforces their social isolation.

4. Kalyani, Narayan and Shakuntala: A Love Triangle

Another theme in Water is love, which is explored through the relationship between Kalyani, Narayan and Shakuntala. Kalyani falls in love with Narayan even though she knows that it is forbidden for them to be together because he is not a widow.
She knows that if they were caught, she would be sent away from the ashram or even killed. Despite this, she is willing to risk everything for her love.
Shakuntala also begins to have feelings for Narayan, even though she knows that it is against her duty as a widow to do so. This creates a love triangle between the three characters.
The film shows how love can challenge social norms and create conflict between people.

5. Father and Daughter: A Relationship Torn Apart

The relationship between Madhumati and her father is also an important part of the film. Madhumati’s father is a Brahmin and he arranged for her to marry a man from a higher caste.
However, her husband died soon after they were married and she was forced to become a widow. Madhumati’s father blames her for her husband’s death and says that it was her karma.
He also says that she is not allowed to return home because she is now a widow. This creates a rift between Madhumati and her father.
The film explores how relationships can be torn apart by social norms and how this can lead to self-loathing and resentment.

6. Conclusion

Water is a masterpiece that explores the themes of liberty, prostitution, widows, dharma, religious geography, love, and relationships. Through these themes, the film tells a powerful story about the lives of widows in pre-Gandhi India.


The plot of Water follows the story of a young Indian girl named Chuyia who is widowed and sent to a widow's ashram. There, she befriends a group of other widows and starts to question the unfair treatment they receive. When one of the widows is forced to prostitute herself, Chuyia takes action to try and help her. This leads to a series of events that ultimately challenge the traditional views on widowhood in India.

The film depicts Indian culture and traditions in a very realistic way. It shows both the good and the bad aspects of life in India, including the discrimination against women that still exists in some parts of society.

The main themes explored in Water are feminism, religion, and social injustice. The film highlights the struggles that women face in a male-dominated society, as well as the often harsh realities of life for those living below poverty line.

I personally thought Water was an excellent film that offered a very realistic portrayal of life in India. It dealt with some difficult topics but did so in a way that was respectful and thought-provoking.