Drama Releases: Widow of Silence (2019) - Reviewed

One of the great things about the cinema is its ability to transport viewers to another place; showing us lives so much different from ours. The Indian drama Widow of Silence (in Urdu with English subtitles) is a movie like that. Set in the city of Pulwama in the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir, it eschews melodrama in telling the struggles of the people who live there. It is a straightforward story about a woman dealing with government corruption. Its impact comes from that simplicity, the backdrop of the Kashmir landscape and the usage of local non-actors in supporting roles. The specificity of its story works heavily in its favor, as does the way it makes its points without preaching. Even with (or maybe because of) its slow pace and limited exposition, it is consistently interesting and always clearly told. This is a very good movie.

Aasiya is a half widow. Her husband was taken by the military for interrogation seven years ago and nobody has heard from him since. She would like to get his death certificate so she can move on with her life. In order to do so, she has to speak with the registrar, who has no problem taking advantage of the women who come to his office.

While Widow of Silence is mostly about Aasiya’s attempts to get the death certificate, it is able to provide a larger look at life in that area. The best way it does this is through a happy taxi driver who pops up multiple times during the story. Its value comes not just from bringing foreign viewers to a place they may know little of or from giving voice to a people who are not heard by those who are supposed to be taking care of them. This is also a really good-looking movie.

Writer/director/producer Praveen Morchhale creates an effective sense of location. Hearing the taxi driver talk as we watch his car make its way through the desert or watching Aasiya meet with the registrar after seeing all the women desperately waiting outside for their appointments gives us a stronger insight on events than if everything were explained. He does not linger, overemphasize or manipulate. He lets us see this city and this woman, with the confidence that what he has is enough.

There is no need to have his characters spell out what they already know as facts of their everyday existence. We learn things organically, in conversations between Aasiya and a coworker and in the taxi driver’s musings to passengers or soldiers at military checkpoints. This is an observational production, allowing us to experience what the characters do as they do it.

Widow of Silence is angry, but it shows that instead of telling. There are no speeches railing at the unfair treatment of this woman. We see it when Aasiya goes to see the registrar and has to wait with numerous other women, there under similar circumstances. We see it when the registrar informs her what she must do to get what she needs. We definitely hear it when someone says to Aasiya “In Kashmir, missing people do not come home.” The opening claims it is based on many true stories of women of Kashmir. That is how it feels; one story representing far too many. Widow of Silence is sad, beautiful and very powerful.

--Ben Pivoz