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First Look Review - WIDOW OF SILENCE

widow of silence review
In Kashmir, a Muslim widow gets involved in a conflict when she tries to get her husband's death certificate.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Praveen Morchhale

Starring: Shilpi Marwaha, Ajay Chourey, Noorjahan Mohmmad Younus, Bilal Ahmad, Zaba Banoo, Habibulla

widow of silence poster

Award-winning Indian filmmaker Praveen Morchhale may as well be a figurehead for an Indian new wave if there isn’t already an official movement within South Asian cinema. Taking cues from Middle Eastern auteurs such as Elia Suleiman and Abbas Kiarostami, Morchhale’s deeply empathetic new film Widow of Silence is a riveting introspection of a demographic that rarely has its stories told.


widow of silence review

Morchhale must have met with many women in the conflict zone and understood their plights, because his opening title card reads that the film is based on many true stories of the half-widows of Kashmir, and his minimalist style realistically captures his research, resulting in a studious examination of what it’s like to experience life as a half-widow. The grave topic of men who have ‘disappeared’ in the region was previously explored in Ashvin Kumar’s thoughtful drama No Fathers in Kashmir, which focussed on the perspective of the children.

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Looking at things from a wife’s POV, this film focusses on Aasiya (Shilpi Marwaha), who lives in a Kashmiri village with her 11-year-old daughter and sickly mother-in-law. Once married, Aasiya is now considered a half-widow, since her husband has been in absentia for seven years, for any one of the potential reasons that would arise from being in one of the most militarised areas of the world.


widow of silence review

In an attempt to break free from the ouroborus of sadness after her visits to the police station, Aasiya accepts her missing husband may never return and sets out to retrieve his death certificate from the local registrar. Except this registrar - played by Ajay Chourey, in a case of being too good at his job that you might genuinely dislike him - is a vile man who tries to exploit the loneliness of all these women in the same situation, making unsavoury moves and gestures with each visit, even frightening them altogether of the possibility of ever finding closure through the official paperwork.

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The presentation is blunt and naturalistic, as Morchhale displays an uncommon patience and affinity for simplicity that few of his contemporaries possess. He follows the blueprint of the aforementioned Middle Eastern auteurs - particularly Kiarostami - exploring sombre socio-cultural themes through a Neorealist mise-en-scene. Basically, there are lengthy shots of actions and reactions unfolding in real-time, no score, non-professional actors playing bit parts, and a non-embellishment of the backdrop or the characters.


widow of silence review

These cinematic elements strongly contribute to both making a poignant, convincing film about a broken cultural edifice that inspires me to learn more, and simply presenting a different kind of cinematic experience to one I’m used to within Indian cinema, especially for a story with such a sensitive context. I’m grateful for the existence of this film and hope it inspires other filmmakers to treat the issues of Kashmir in a more compassionate and authentic manner.

Widow of Silence is on US Virtual Cinema platforms from July 10th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




2020 movie reviews