Water provides a very powerful snippet of these cultural blotches of our society during that early twentieth century time frame, where widowed women were denied their rights to live a respectful life. What could be termed as a gross violation of humanity, they were shoved and quarantined like harmful viruses, once their husbands would die – most of them were of their grandfather’s age, counting their last few days, at the time the marriage happened; sometimes the brides would be so young that they wouldn’t even know what marriage was all about. Imagine how inhumane it would be when an young widow - a playful little girl - was sent to a filthy widow home to spend rest of her life performing pujas (self purification that is!) to make amends for the sins from her previous life that supposedly caused her husband’s death. The home, located at one of the ghats of Varanasi, was already cramped with veteran (sarcastic) oldies. The wealthy men, many of them were revered figures, would use agents like Gulabi to bring the younger women from the home to fulfill their lust. So, as you see, a such ecosystem was created by men in the name of religion for their own purpose. The story walks you through this system through its characters - chuiya, a child widow (played by Sarala Kariyawasam, a Srilankan girl), Kalyani, a beautiful young woman (Lisa Ray), Shakuntala, a middle-aged woman (Seema Biswas), and Madhumati, the oldest of the lot, who ran the ashram (Manorama) – all of whom were primarily the victims of this system. The iconic representation was so strong in the movie that you will feel your skins crawl at some point, visualizing the women in your life in such context. The movie also shows a positive transition of the society towards the end, which were mainly leveraged by the great reformers like Mahatma Gandhi, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and brought through the characters of Narayan (played by John Abraham), an young man from the upper-class society and an ardent follower of Gandhi, and Sadanand (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), a priest who would later provide the inputs to Shakuntala that helped her finally realize the truth; ultimately giving her the strength to liberate the child from this infested system – a metaphor that the director used brilliantly to showcase the uplift. this is where it succeeded too - for being able to radiate the positivism. At least, it worked for me.
The music is also gracious and regarded as one of the best from AR Rehman, which he himself rated as 10/10.