They Drank the Water

The big news in Oscarland this morning (with a Desi Angle of course) was the inclusion of Deepa Mehta’s Water amongst the nominees for “Best Foreign Language Film.” According to, Mehta said that she was in a state of shock over learning that her film had been nominated. Frankly, so was I. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for Mehta. She clearly put a lot of hard work and time into the film. And it is clearly something she is (and should be) proud of. I just don’t think the movie was that good. As I mentioned in my quickie review here, I thought the film was a good timepass, but in the end I thought it lacked the authenticity a period film like Water should really have.

Mehta’s third film in her trilogy of elements is set in 1938 India and revolves around Chuyia, an 8-year-old Hindu widow – brilliantly portrayed by Sarala – sent to leave her family behind and live in an ashram with other widows. The movie follows Chuyia and focuses on her interactions with Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), the de facto caretaker of the widows, and Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a widow who wants to start a new life and relationship with Narayan (John Abraham), a Gandhian. While Biswas and Sarala both give really good performances, I thought the third facet of the plot, that of the relationship between Ray and Abraham, along with the misleading sets a definite contributor to the mediocrity of the film.

Water will be competing for the Oscar against Denmark’s After the Wedding, Algeria’s Days of Glory, Germany’s The Lives of Others and Mexico’s Pan’s Labyrinth. I did find it noteworthy that Water is the first non-French film from Canada to be up for a best foreign language film (link). I think that is impressive initself: think about it, Canada submitting a Hindi language film as its submission for Best Foreign Language Film. I think that is amazing.

Given that many of the reviews of Water published in the mainstream media are quite positive of the film, clearly my impression of the film is not that of the majority. Nevertheless, I am in agreement with the reviewer who wrote that the many overly positive reviews are a reflection of people confusing an honorable message with a good movie. I do wish Mehta the best at the Oscars though.

The Academy Awards air February 25 at 8 PM on ABC.

Related posts: Fun With The Reviewers: Deepa Mehta’s Water, earth, fire, WATER, Water Is Finally Here, Is Deepa Mehta Back in the Game?

54 thoughts on “They Drank the Water

  1. The movie isn’t nomination-quality, and the story, however thin, is actually better than Lisa Ray’s acting. When I first heard she was going to play the lead, I couldn’t believe it – she doesn’t look like ‘traditional’ old-school bhartiya nari, her body language is not and wasn’t in the movie anywhere close to convincing of her character’s cultural upbringing and mileau. That is the biggest problem – body language – for phoren indians doing bollywood, and even more so when doing period pieces such as this. It would have been more appropriate to have a proto-widow character and an actress who could look the part (ordinary physical presence, slightly emaciated, looking like life is somewhat stamped out etc.). In short, someone like Nandita Das or Konkona Sen Sharma (Page 3)

    Oscars foreign movie category seems either a political play or simply a western judge looking through its own cultural lenses to consider what is nomination-worthy. What they consider great would inevitably be colored by their own cultural reality. When Lagaan was nominated a few years ago, even though I considered it pretty close to a win-worthy movie, I couldn’t see how it would win – people look weird, what the heck is it with the song & dance, and western audience can’t possibly be expected to ‘get’ the unity-in-diversity message down to the specifics of various religious, caste, background representations etc. On the other hand, in addition to great story-telling, it was these extras that made the movie memorable for me.

    Another example is one I heard on NPR a year ago or so. They reviewed a CD on ‘best of bollywood’ compiled by some western source. Holy cow, it had some horrible songs! And of course the reviewer went on about how each song meant this or that for a first time bollymusic listener. And I kept thinking – some songs here are shit! Most desis in the world have never heard or liked these and here they are representing hundred of thousands of bolly songs…

    So anyway, I don’t think water is the best hindi entry to the oscars, and I don’t think its win-worthy. I really hope we don’t keep sending nonsense to the oscars and hope the selection committee doesn’t finally hand out one on account of being tired with constant desi push and politics. If Rang de Basanti were entered however, it would be a different matter altogether.

  2. India made a big mistake submitting rang de basanti. USA panel cannot fully appreciate such a film. Omkara on the other hand would have won the Oscar hands down! And Water is simple film that the panel can grasp easily. RDB is a better film but you have to play the silly game to win.

    Seeker very nice points!

    And if you read that article in time magazine few yrs back you will realize the ridiculous taste westerners have for hindi films. well maybe not ridiculous but MUCH DIFFERENT.