Saw this movie today. The story is set in 1938 Benares (Varanasi). It is about how Hindus treat their widows. It begins with young 8 year old Chuhiya (Sarala from Sri Lanka did this role) losing her husband. Chuhiya does not even understand marriage, leave alone her husband’s death. Her father then leaves her in the widow’s ashram in Benares. The story then revolves around the women there. Seema Biswas as Shakuntala has done a subdued but brilliant role. Lisa Ray as Kalyani looks beautiful but can’t act. She is an unlettered girl with whom John Abraham who is a law graduate falls in love. Lisa looks unconvincing in her role. But this is not to deter the excellent movie. Sarala has acted very well. Mahatma Gandhi is a theme running throughout the movie. He is even shown giving a brief speech at the Benares railway station when he is on his way to Allahabad after being released from jail by the British. I think Deepa Mehta the director wanted to convey the message that Gandhi was ushering in a social revolution by asking people to shun untouchability and encouraging widow remarriage. Raja Ram Mohan Roy who promoted this concept is mentioned. Waheeda Rehman is John Abraham’s mother. Though her role is brief, she is my favourite actress and I will always like her. She is worth watching.

Pic: Sarala as chuhiya (mouse in hindi)

The movie begins by quoting this Manu Smriti-

The widow should be long suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste. A virtuous wife who remains chaste when her husband has died goes to heaven. A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is reborn in the womb of a jackal.

– The Laws of Manu, Chapter 5 verse 156 – 161 Dharmashastras

In Hindu mythology, Manu   is a title accorded to the progenitor of humankind, first king to rule this earth, who saves mankind from the universal flood (Noah ?). However, he never promoted child marriage and to expect a child widow who probably has not yet attained puberty, to follow that law is extreme cruelty. Which is what this movie tries to convey. In any case, isolating an adult widow is cruel and inhuman enough.

This movie is definitely watchable. There is grief, but in the end there is optimism and hope. Songs are nice. Get the DVD for your collection definitely.