Trivandrum, 15 Dec 2018 7:00 IST
Filmmaker Praveen Morchhale's fascinating film takes a searing look at the lives of the so-called half-widows in Kashmir and the people left behind in a conflict zone.
How does a piece of paper from the government define our identities and our lives? Praveen Morchhale’s riveting feature Widow Of Silence examines this question as it delves into the lives of the so-called half-widows and their families, left behind in the throes of uncertainty in a largely insensate society.
Widow Of Silence is set in conflict-ridden Kashmir, where a Muslim 'half-widow' takes care of her 11-year-old daughter and ailing mother-in-law. Her husband, like the husbands of thousands of other women in Kashmir, was picked up one day by Indian soldiers seven years ago, never to be seen again.
In an attempt to move on with her life, she seeks to procure a death certificate for her missing husband from the government, a piece of paper that will provide some closure for her and her family. Instead, she finds herself in the clutches of red tape, as the gatekeepers of the system push her towards an exploitative situation which snowballs into turmoil.
Written, directed and produced by Morchhale, who was captivated by the stories of half-widows fighting the odds to lead their lives in a conflict zone, the film juxtaposes the beauty of the landscape with the harsh reality of their lives.
Cinematographer Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah frames each shot into a painting, but the imagination of Kashmir as heaven on earth is sharply contrasted with the reality of the place which is littered with ruined lives amidst a static and still mesmerizing landscape.
While the film is rooted within the family and the community, it gestures towards the larger issues plaguing the land of Kashmir, a land ravaged for decades by those with vested interests. The people, then, are victims in that cycle of oppression, unable to leave and harassed by the authorities when they stay. The physical journey to the office becomes a metaphor for the arduous journey the half-widows make, hoping for some respite in a system where a photograph becomes more important than the people themselves. As a commuter comments, “Waiting for god and for the taxi tests our patience.”
Morchhale has worked largely with non-professional artistes and the local people, and there is an authenticity to this simple tale where nothing feels forced in the evenly paced narrative that builds slowly to a crescendo. Shilpi Marwaha in the lead role portrays her predicament with the stoicism of someone forced to make choices with her back to the wall.
The film captures the nuances of the lives of the people of Kashmir and the everydayness of violence through small moments, like the reaction of the child when she hears a bullet being fired, or the soldier who is no longer found at his post.
To escape remains a dream.
Widow Of Silence was screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala in Trivandrum on 11, 12 and 13 December 2018.