A young married girl is about to lose her husband to a disease as the film begins. Once the husband has died, and despite her young age, she is now a widow and her options are limited.
- She could marry the younger brother of her dead husband.
- She could throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.
- She could join an ashram and give the rest of her life to spiritual devotion.
According to the sacred texts:
- A window should be long-suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste.
- A virtuous wife who remains chaste when her husband has died, goes to heaven.
- A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is reborn in the womb of a jackal.
So say the Holy scriptures as written in the Dharamshastras.
Soon after the cremation, the young child-widow has her head shaved, she’s made to wear a basic and unadorned white garment, and is brought to a temple to live out her remaining life, in the company of other women in the same circumstances – that of being a widow.
They are isolated, men are not permitted in the ashram, and other than as beggars, or shopping for essentials, they infrequently mix with society
The date is 1938. The place is Benares now called Varanasi, India. The former young married female’s name is Chuyia. She is 8 years old.
The film is called Water (2005) and is the last film in a trilogy of elemental films, directed and written by Deepa Mehta. The other two titles are Earth (1998), and Fire (1996).
Now I will grant you that a film about the circumstances about widows in India, circa 1938, doesn’t exactly jump out as a ‘must see‘ movie. But this is more than a simple movie about ‘societal injustice‘.
Besides the young child-widow, there are three more characters that require your attention and concern.