Saturday, June 03, 2006
Water and 15 Park Avenue
Deepa Mehta's Water and Aparna Sen's "15 Park Avenue" are two brilliant movies directed by Indian women that approach taboo topics. The topics are delicate and the directors handle them with love and sensitivity. These topics are glass. If handled roughly, they would shatter. When handled properly, they could be a prism, reflecting the colors and the lights that we don't see.
"Water" is Mehta's third movie in her trilogy with "Fire" and "Earth." This movie has been fraught with controversy and was ultimately filmed in Sri Lanka.
For many Indians, the treatment of widows is a hurtful and embarrassing scar from the past. Most of the anger in the Indian community is "Why do you need to show that to western audiences?" I personally think it is important to know and remember your history as you build your future. While widows may not live in the same harsh conditions depicted in the movie, widows are still regarded differently to a degree and the biases are more subtle.
In an interview, Deepa Mehta stated: "Water can flow or water can be stagnant. I set the film in the 1930s, but the people in the film live their lives as it was prescribed by a religious text more than 2,000 years old. Even today, people follow these texts, which is one reason why there continue to be millions of widows. To me, that is a kind of stagnant water. I think traditions shouldn't be that rigid. They should flow like the replenishing kind of water."
Cinema is a powerful medium transforming faceless widows into real and recognizable people. There was an elderly widow who craved laddoos and sweets. Don't we all? How would your needs for small pleasures in life disappear suddenly? The confidence and esteem of these women is beaten down. And, they beat down on each other, knowing they cannot rise.
John Abraham's role is wonderful in its symbolism. A flute-playing, Gandhian named Narayan (another name for Lord Vishnu) becomes an image of Krishna, a savior to the women. Lisa Ray is exquisite as the beautiful widow who is forced to prostitute by the ashram matriarch. I've seen Lisa and John in Bollywood movies, so it was refreshing to see them in such serious roles, which they fulfilled beautifully.
The character of Chuyia, the child widow, is so important. Mehta shows how her youthfulness is oppressed by the burden of widowhood. I just read that young Sarala, who plays Chuyia the child widow, does not speak Hindi and learnt her lines phonetically. Right there is one challenge as an actor.
The other movie that slipped in quietly was "15 Park Avenue." I enjoyed Aparna Sen's "Mr. & Mrs. Iyer" so I knew this would be as stimulating. I thought this was well-developed story, though it used some cliched story-telling techniques. Overall it was done well. The actors - Shabana Azmi & Konkana Sen - are absolutely talented. People were thrilled with Rani Mukherjee in "Black." However, Sen captures the true spirit and complexity required to play a schizophrenic girl. She wasn't afraid to 'get ugly' and work hard to play this role without resorting to stereotypes.
What I liked about the movie as a whole as that each character has a story and they reveal themselves in their own way. For example, Joydeep's wife is a peripheral character, but the audience sees she is just as complicated and brings in her own feelings as a main character.
The ending was interesting -- abrupt & dreamlike. It didn't flow with the rest of the movie, which seemed realistic. This could be a turn-off for some audiences.
I'm really happy we're able to see these movies now, either on DVD or in the theater.