Volume 76, Number 7 | July 5 - 11, 2006

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“Wordplay” (+)
This film about crossword enthusiasts is a delight.

We meet Will Shortz, crossword editor of The New York Times, who receives puzzles from a string of constructors. We learn the rules of construction and how The Times puzzle builds in difficulty from Monday to Saturday.  t is softened on Sunday when it has a much larger audience. We are shown scenes of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held annually in Stamford, Ct., where we meet the champions who vie against one another year after year. 

Puzzle enthusiasts include my brother-in-law, Al Thaler, and former President Bill Clinton. Sometimes within ten minutes, Al will complete

The Times puzzle always using a pen. I recently received a note from Bill Clinton along with a completed Washington Post puzzle that included my surname as an answer to one of the clues. His note read, “As you can see, you’re not forgotten in the nation’s capitol - 34 across.” President Clinton’s puzzle was also completed in ink. My last name has appeared more than once in puzzles, perhaps because it is short and has a good combination of letters. It is a treat to be mentioned in a puzzle, but especially nice to have it brought to my attention on one occasion by the former president and spouse, I hope, of our next president, Hillary.

I had a ball watching this movie, although I’m still afraid to begin a puzzle for fear of not being able to complete it.
“Water” (+)
This is an extremely sad and true tale depicting the fate of widows in India in the late 30’s during the time of Gandhi. In ancient India, a woman had three options when her husband died:  to die at the same time and be cremated with him, marry her husband’s younger brother, or live in an ashram and support herself as a beggar or a prostitute.

Even worse, children were married off at the age of eight, ten and twelve. When their much older and sometimes very old husbands died, often before the girls moved in with them, the girls would be barred from remarrying and sent by their parents to live in ashrams until their death. According to the picture’s end crawl, Gandhi sought to liberate widows from this religious tradition, but it continues today although to a lesser degree. 

The cast includes eight-year-old Chuyia (Sarala) who after her husband’s death was sent by her parents to live in an ashram never to see them again. Chuyia is befriended by two widows:  the housemother, Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), and Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who is a friend of Narayan (John Abraham), a recent law school graduate and follower of Gandhi. Madhumati (Manorma) is the tyrannical but pitiful figure who runs the ashram.   

Deepa Mehta, who wrote and directed the film, had to shoot it in Sri Lanka rather than India, because of the violence threatened by fundamentalists opposed to revealing the fate of widows, particularly their being driven to prostitution. The phenomenal acting, wonderful and undoubtedly real sets, and the moving story, add up to a first-rate film.

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