It is 1938 and in India, a child bride, Chuyia, only nine years old and with no memory of even getting married, is widowed. According to Hindu tradition she now has three choices, to marry a younger brother, throw herself on the funeral pyre or join an ashram, a bare bones refuge on the banks of the Ganges, presided over but not run by Shakuntula, the film’s moral compass and one of the most interesting characters. The focus of attention shifts to Kalyana, a beautiful young widow who sells her body to provide funds for the community, not entirely of her own will. When Naryan, a devout follower of Ghandi who is making great strides in the rights of women in his still backward country falls in love with her, she has a difficult decision to make as to whether to break with religious tradition and marry him or to stay a lonely widow, shackled by belief.
This is a beautifully written, beautifully made and very affecting film, examining the clamps that religion held and still holds on the freedom of speech and movement of many individuals. Though having a definite message showing how damaging this can be on a person’s life, it is a well balanced feature that does not seek to demonise those who uphold the religion, showing them acting out of a deeply held faith rather than for any personal gain or power. Deepa Mehta is brave enough to let the script and the characters carry the message and the film is all the more effective for it.
What is interesting is that her crew were prevented from shooting in India, having to relocate to Sri Lanka for the location work and that it was eventually banned in both India and Pakistan. Which is a shame as it’s message would be most applicable to those from that country who still suffer from religious oppression, however well intentioned it might sometimes be. The changes that happen ion Chuyia’s life are all negative and it is her beliefs that are directly responsible for her plight. All of the women in the Ashram are shown top be basically good honourable women who have been forcibly removed from their lives and now have to scrape a living in any way they can, often degrading themselves in the process. It’s a film which is hard to watch sometimes but which is incredibly rewarding. See it, recommend it to your friends and wonder at how different life can be in some corners of the world.
Director: Deepa Mehta
Cast: Sarala, Buddhi Wickrama, Rinsly Weerarathne, Iranganie Serasinghe, Hermantha Gamage
Language: Hindi with English Subtitles
Country: Canada, India
Awards: National Board of Review, Valladolid International Film Festival,Genie Awards, Bangkok International Film Festival, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Vancouver Film Critics Circle, Young Artist Awards
Nominations: Genie Awards, Academy Awards, Valladolid International Film Festival, Chlotrudis Awards, Satellite Awards