Film by Deepa Mehta
This film is set in Varanasi, India during the time of Gandhi’s rise in the 1930s. It is, at once, much like India herself. The cinematography is incredibly beautiful recording the most holy temples, landscape, people and colors while forcing us to acknowledge devastating conditions in which so many of the people live, particularly women. A paradox placed upon the people through their most sacred beliefs. But it does not leave us with such discomfort alone. It also presents hope.
This is the story of eight year-old Chuyia, left suddenly a widow at the death of her many years older husband. As the sacred texts direct, she is sent to live in a house of widows, an ascetic, hair shorn, eating one meal a day, even though she never lived as a wife with her husband. A heart-breaking account of a practice that continues to this day in some areas. Doctrine states that while her husband is alive a woman is half his body, and when he dies she is half his corpse, held in highest esteem and yet treated badly, then living in the most extreme poverty. The hope offered in the film comes through the bond that develops between young Chuyia and some of the widows, the intervention of a stranger and the new teachings of Ghandhi making headway during those times.
The film was so controversial that, during its initial making in 2000, filmmaker Deepa Mehta, cast and crew were driven from Veranasi, their safety threatened by mobs and the set torn down, causing the project to be abandoned for a few years. Four years later, Mehta was able to complete the film in Sri Lanka. It was nominated for an Oscar in 2005.
Rather than be put off by the subject matter, I invite readers to view the film. It has a beautifully haunting quality that will stay with you for a long time. Available in DVD or watch online free. The soundtrack is equally mesmerizing.