JayFlix participants strike again! (Thanks for the tip ― you know who you are!) I obtained this 2005 DVD from the Seattle City Library.

The making of the film was a saga. Evidently fundamentalists in India objected to the depiction of the traditional Hindu treatment of widows by their devotees. According to their holy book, when a woman is widowed she has three choices:
  1. She may accept the honor of suttee and throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre (now officially outlawed);
  2. She may marry her husband's younger brother;
  3. She must live in exile with other widows, reduced to begging for subsistence (in 2001 when this movie was made, there were 20 MILLION of them living in India under these conditions).

They didn't want this aspect of their religion aired to the world. To her credit, writer/director Deepa Mehta ("Bollywood/Hollywood") was not easily bullied: She set up shop in another part of India and shot her film anyway.

Our story is set in 1938 when Mahatma Gandhi and his followers were just beginning to gather momentum. As we know, their efforts culminated in Partition, which ultimately divided India by religion: Buddhist and Muslim (the religious division was something to which Gandhi was firmly opposed!). Our story ends before the resulting bloodbath begins. (Don'tcha just LOVE people slaughtering other people in the name of religion?)

We first meet a little girl being awakened by her father who tells her that her husband has died. She is only eight years old and can't even remember getting married, as her marriage isn't to be consummated until she is a little older. Her family's religious tradition dictates that she be sent to an ashram to live out her life with other widows. She is confused, unhappy, and a little rebellious. As she becomes acquainted with her fellow widows, we also meet them.

This movie features a lovely couple in the romantic leads: Lisa Ray ("All Hat") is Kalyani, a twentyish widow; and John Abraham ("New York") is Narayan, a wealthy young college graduate. Both of these appealing actors are hard-working professionals and I hope to see them in some of their many other films.

We see what it takes to survive in an ashram of widows and are shocked by what we learn. We see the dynamics of privilege and cringe to see how it affects all of the poor souls in the vicinity. We definitely care about our principals and are deeply invested in their happiness. This is a poignant, well-acted movie, performed in Hindi with English captions.