Indian Film Festival Review: Widow of Silence
Having seen this film in the Indian Film Festival line-up, I held my breath with dreaded fascination. Having grown up with a Kashmiri father and an Australian mother, the stories I heard about Kashmir were shaped in a masculine format. It was his story and my brothers’ stories, not my sisters’ or aunts’.
Widow of Silence is a film about the women of Kashmir, seen through a gentle and thought-provoking lens. What this film lacks technically, it makes up for in the poetic moments and stunning imagery, but most importantly in the desperately powerful story that is being told.
Widow of Silence is not your average Bollywood film. Known as ‘Valley of Flowers’ or ‘Heaven on Earth’, Kashmir has been the backdrop to many famous Indian films that delicately glaze their storylines over the reality of a region that both Pakistan and India have been fighting to claim for years. Widow of Silence breaks this trend, looking directly at those who are affected by a war where everyone and no one, is the enemy.
Almost observational-documentary in style, the film transports us into the life of a single mother Aasia (Shilpi Marwaha) who looks after her defiant 11-year-old daughter and ailing mother-in-law. Long static shots, reveal her home, work and life in the small village. The film is mostly void of any music, (which often aids emotional direction), giving an authentic feel to the film.
Director Praveen Morchhale captures Aasia’s seven-year struggle to obtain independence through the simple act of acquiring the death certificate of her kidnapped and lost husband. The certificate would give her rights to his land. The infuriatingly easy task for any man is road blocked for a woman in her position, in a region that seems held back in time.
This film exquisitely follows Aasia’s journey. Her words and encounters are up close and personal yet at the same time, seem to carry the voice of thousands: mothers, wives and daughters, who have become invisible after the deaths or disappearances of their men.
Morchhale could have gone down a bloody and violent route with this film. I waited in anxious concern for a scene where Aasia’s delicate mud-brick house would blow away with the slow, and omnipresent war that surrounded her - but it did not.
Instead, the director chose to unfold this story carefully. We see the brutality of exploitation, as Aasia encounters corruption in her local government, the civil servant portraying the man we all dread; he wants her to exchange sex for her husband's death certificate. We see strength, as Aasia calmly deals with her daughter who is acting up at school due to being bullied for having no father. We see poetry in Aasia’s taxi driver, whose voice playfully questions the ethics of a woman’s place, politics and religion – a dangerous thing to do in a region that recruits men to kill, in the dark of the night.
This film is deliberately slow and silent, leaving room to ponder the poetic dialogue and the educational aspect of Kashmir’s political and religious systems. The symmetrical shots and recurring scenes, build upon each other and brilliantly climax, with heartbreaking truths. Aasia’s story, which represents that of a modern Kashmiri woman is left unfinished, the next chapter of her life is unknown, and is the reality for those that she is signifying. War has turned heaven to hell.
The final shot of the film is a symbolic masterpiece that encapsulates this film and is a powerful message about the Kashmiri valley and its beautiful, sad story. A story that not only I, as a (westernised) Kashmiri, needed to see but also for anyone who is interested in witnessing the reality of senseless war and corrupt politics at its finest.
Widow of Silence is now showing at Indian Film Festical Melbourne. 2019. Session times and ticketing info can be found here.