Monday, March 06, 2006

The Third Element

Sitting in the Hirshhorn museum's Ring Auditorium after waiting for over an hour on Saturday, I really wanted to like Water, Deepa Mehta's last in her trilogy of films based on the elements. I wanted to write a glowing review of it for you all, but after sitting through it (and the really, really long introductory conversation between Mehta and the Smithsonian's Manjula Kumar) I came away simply underwhelmed. It wasn't that the movie was horrible, it wasn't. It was just unimpressive. I think back to Mehta's Fire, it was unique for the time of its release and blessed with the presence of Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das; I found Earth, the second installment of the trilogy phenomenal, visually stunning, musically evocative, and well directed. Contrastingly in Water, I saw a cast of mostly uninspired acting, drab sets, and music that just faded into the background (perhaps by design?).

The film was shot in Sri Lanka, and while watching the movie, Sri Lanka's lush landscapes easily gives the non-India locale away. I can't say for sure that in 1938 there were no palm trees in Varanasi, but I am not buying that the city's ghats were surrounded by them. I found Seema Biswas (Shakuntala) of Bandit Queen fame and the relative newcomer Sarala (Chuyia) playing the young widow excellent, but the beautiful Lisa Ray (Kalyani) was mediocre at best. Shakuntala's dutiful strength and Chuyia's naïve intelligence were indeed stark contrasts to the rather forgettable Kalyani (spoiler warning: one of my favorite scenes shows Chuyia sitting amongst the praying widows, fearlessly blurting a question to the pundit asking, "what happenned to male widows?").

I wanted to be moved by the climactic scenes featuring MK Gandhi, but I found them artificial and contrived, which only added to the hokey vibe of the movie. The film, it's not bad, but I didn't find it great. For the curious however, it's a decent timepass.


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