on April 18, 1986 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
The true -- and still prevalent -- tribulation of Indian widows, some just children, who are forced to live out their lives in exile as penitence for their husbands' sins, is the subject of the latest controversial film from Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta. But unlike "Fire," her 1996 film about two Indian women who become lovers, "Water" lacks passion and power.

Set in 1938, "Water" centers on an eight-year-old girl, Chuyia (Sarala), whose much older husband has just died. Her family sends her to an ashram, where she is to spend the rest of her earthly existence -- something she cannot begin to fathom. As Chuyia befriends the women around her, the reformist influence of Mahatma Gandhi, who wants to ban the practice of sending widows away, begins to make its presence felt. Hampered by Sarala's one-note, whiny performance, "Water" functions best as a beautiful travelogue and least as a potent drama. Mehta's conventional direction fails to do proper justice to this disturbing reality. Starring Sarala, Lisa Ray and John Abraham. Directed and written by Deepa Mehta. Produced by David Hamilton. A Fox Searchlight release. Drama. Hindi-language; subtitled. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual situations, and for brief drug use. Running time: 114 min

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