SRINAGAR: Kashmir’s half-widows have got yet another voice. The writer and director Praveen Morchhale, has shot an 85-minute Urdu film with English subtitles, Widow of Silence, based on Kashmiri half-widows. Though the film is yet to be showcased in Kashmir, the reviews that have come after two premiers suggest the story has been tackled powerfully.
A new term that Kashmir conflict has created, half widows are women whose husband’s disappeared and never returned home. Mostly they are being seen as victims of enforced disappearances. The film tells the story of a half-widow and her survival in challenging situations.
Premier At Busan
The film was premiered at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) on October 8, within days after its shooting concluded in Kashmir.
“Life goes on in a small village in civil-war-ridden Kashmir, India, where bullet trains pass through forests blooming with flowers,” BIFF wrote about the film officially. “Aasia, a Muslim woman, lives with her 11-year old daughter and mother-in-law since her husband went missing 7-years ago after the Indian army took him away. She attempts to register her husband as dead, but a corrupt government official keeps turning down her request, blatantly making demands instead. Praveen Morchhale’s realistic camerawork, long-takes, and use of non-professional actors capture the lives occupying the landscapes and spaces of Kashmir. Each scene unfolds as characters enter and intersect with each other in spaces where the camera has already been waiting. Likewise, the camera lingers long after the characters have left the space, embracing the roles of characters and space in the film. It seems as though the film is claiming that life goes on regardless, but at the same time, it visually represents the oppressive conditions the protagonist is placed in through melodramatic mise-en-scene leading us to see the point of fissure as the film reaches its catastrophic ending.”
The film was screened for the second time on Monday, November 12, 2018, at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) to a packed hall with young boys and girls sitting on the steps and aisles. “And the movie was gripping, even though it was a trifle too long,” News18 website reported from Kolkata. “On a subject as disturbing as missing men in Kashmir, Morchhale’s work explores in all its pain and poignancy the angst and agony of a young woman, Aasiya, whose husband is picked up by security forces one night. Seven years pass and nothing is heard of him, and Aasiya’s desperate efforts to trace him are in vain. Finally, she plays her trump card by asking the District Collector for her husband’s death certificate. He refuses, but later yields on condition she sleeps with him. Or, maybe, she can sell her house and give him a commission. Aasiya declines both and finds that she cannot get the certificate – leaving her completely in the dark about her husband. Is he alive or is he dead?”
Shot In Kashmir
The director has shot the movie in 17 days during a 20–22-day schedule in Kashmir in October this year. It cost almost half a crore rupees.
Parveen Morchhale is one among 10 Asian directors nominated for the Kim Ji-seok Award instituted in the memory of the festival’s co-founder and former head selector, which carries a cash prize of US$ 10,000.
The film revolves around a Kashmiri Muslim woman with an 11-year-old daughter and an ailing mother-in-law whose husband had gone missing and whose death has neither been ascertained nor confirmed.
“Based on the many true stories I heard, I am trying to portray the pain, struggle, suffering and indomitable spirit of these women and their children who live an isolated social life and face harassment, humiliation and sexual exploitation as they struggle to lead a dignified life,” Morchhale was quoted saying. His ‘half-widow’ is almost molested when she goes to get her husband’s death certificate to claim property rights after having been refused any government help. “In a strange way it’s a #MeToo kind of a situation,” Mumbai Mirror quoted director Parveen Morchhale as saying.
It’s not just people disappear because they want to cross the border for militancy, he points out that that’s a possibility, but there could be other reasons too, social and financial.
“In my film, the husband is jobless despite being an engineering graduate,” the newspaper quoted the director saying. “We are not talking politics here or getting judgemental, this is a human story of a woman who can’t tell her daughter if her father is dead or alive, cannot move on with her own life and has predatory relatives waiting for her to claim her inheritance. The story is not limited to the Valley but unfolds across the world wherever a conflict is happening.”
A Mixed Cast
The film has a mixed cast. The mother-in-law and daughter are played by locals, Zaba Banoo and Noorjahan. The lead role is enacted by Shilpi Marwaha, a Delhi stage artiste. The director has taken Shilpi as the lead role because she looks like a Kashmiri but her face and eyes conveyed both sadness and strength.
Pertinently, Parveen was one of many who stayed away from the ceremony in the capital in May despite his film, Walking in the Wind, bagging three awards — Best Film in Ladakhi, Best Sound Design and Best Sound Mixing — in protest again the decision that President, Ram Nath Kovind, would present only 11 awards.
According to a report by a news portal, a Kashmiri woman’s husband is being picked up by Army officers during the night hours and never returns back to his family. Even seven years later, the government is unwilling to declare him dead. His wife, Aasiya, struggles to get a death certificate, but the government is non-committal with her.
“In our country, a person does a nine-to-five job, beating traffic and under all kinds of social and family pressures,” Morchhale told Scroll.in. “But he does all this to come back to his family at the end of the day, and what drives him in the process is hope, which has the power to move mountains.”
Before directing the movie the director had met several half widows in Kashmir, including a woman whose husband had died in an accident. “I prefer stories of rural life more than cities, perhaps, on account of growing up and staying in Madhya Pradesh for a really long time,” the director was quoted saying. “I am fascinated by stories of people living on the edge in far-flung areas, who are not spoken about in cities.”
“Morchhale’s latest work is his most powerful and is a searing critique of the Government’s unconcerned attitude towards those dozens of women whose husbands disappeared during Kashmir’s armed struggle in the 1990s,” commented Gautaman Bhaskaran News 18. “The most colourful performance came from Bilal, a real-life bus driver whose caustic humour is just amazing. When a soldier stops his van, the driver quips: “Don’t touch the flowers with your gun or the flowers may start loving it.”