Writer-director Praveen Morchhale’s Widow of Silence is a film showing a few days in a region, Indian Kashmir, that has changed throughout three decades. A cab driver (Bilal Ahmad) shuttling people from the farms to the town comments on these changes, and so do his passengers. But the character who feels the most change is Aasiya (Shilpi Marwaha). She must juggle work and being a mother to a daughter (Noorjahan) while trying to get out of legal limbo. She is a half widow, the wife of a man who is either in jail or dead.
Aasiya still holds out home that her husband will come home after even years of disappearing. But if she declares him legally dead, she gets access to his land. A sinister government official (Ajay Chourey) has other ideas for her, like taking a half widow pension. He also hints that he can fast track her husband’s death certificate if she sells the land. And he will double fast track the missing man’s certificate if she dates him. Women get the short stick in situations especially while living in patriarchal societies.
But in watching a film like this, Western audiences must consider their prejudices in assuming that Muslim women live in uber-patriarchal societies. I researched a few things after watching this film. And it shows that both Indian and Kashmiri sharia law has some ways to make Aasiya’s life easier financially. Ideally, she has the right to make her choices. The film is on her side, understanding that she knows the difference between the easy choices and the right ones.
Time, as an idea, is its own character in this film. We can feel Aasiya’s seven years of loneliness through her stubbornness and through Marwaha’s performance. Each character has their own history, and that is true even with characters who only show up for one scene. One of the cab’s passengers is a woman who follows Islamic law stricter than Assiya does, visiting a war monument for her dead son. Each character manifests their long memories and national histories.
The film also ties that history to a sense of locality, but it plays with that idea in a more malleable way. There’s scope here as it depicts Kashmir’s valleys. Even interior spaces like the government worker’s office does not feel small and does not close Aasiya in. If anything, the camera pulls back. And somehow, the distance between us and Aasiya does not blunt the urgency of her situation and the things she must do to be her own woman.
- Release Date: 7/10/2020