I saw this extraordinary film, Sabiha Sumar's Silent Waters about a week ago and want to say something about it before it fades away. The DVD comes with a Human Rights statement, Film Notes by Human Rights watch, a director's statement, and q and a on human rights. Its purpose is to show how male violence forms and ends up aimed at women because woman have no recognized rights in custom. That she also wants to show the pernicious resutls of having societies where there is no opportunity for educational or other adult fulfillment for most of the population may be seen in this article, Sabiha Sumar: Workign for the Arts and Woman's Rights by Laila Kazmi and how she gets no help from Pakistan or most of its people: No support from Pakistanis at Home
Early scene of Ayeesha (Kiron Kher) and her son, Saleem (Amir Ali Malik, in movie -- before he turns against her.
We begin with Ayesha, a middle-aged Muslim woman who is living with her cherished son, Saleem; she has bad dreams whose content is gradually unmasked and unexplained thus: she is alive today because in 1947 when the murdering and riots broke out between Muslims and Hindus, she fled those in her family (Sikhs) who targeted her for murder (they wanted to force her to jump into a deep well). I have heard this before: Sikh men murdered "their" women lest they (these men) "lose" their honor because of the new union of these states: the idea is a confused unarticulated one: somehow other men will rape them or get hold of them or the Sikhs will "lose" "their" women. She flees the well her relatives mean to throw her down and meets that night with a kind Muslim man who attracted to her offers to marry her right there. She does.
Fast forward and the husband is long dead and she has few connections or abilities to find her son a good job. (We are now experiencing this form of finding a job in the US where less and less can one find one based on one's abilities, certificates, institutions, and there's a turn back to this family-network, nepotism, cronyism ancien-regime style). He has exquisite talent playing the flute, but there is no money for lessons, no place in university or training for him; there is not school he can go to which will enable him to get a self-respecting job. She has managed to find one for him, from a far-away male relative working behind a grocery shop. Well the boy just hates this prospect as his horizon. He is all she has. She works hard to make food for him and keep their house quiet, clean, peaceful.
He begins to involve himself with a gang of thugs who rationalize their lust for power, bullying others, drive to control women by their religion and hatred for Hindus. He gains intense self-esteem in this group but it's dangerous and they are densely frightening people. One result of an intricate series of events is it's discovered that his mother is a once Sikh woman after these thugs attack the Sikhs and the Sikhs defend themselves. At first I had felt for the Sikhs as vulnerable and under bigoted racial attack, but I soon learned their behavior towards women was as dismissive and exploitative as that of the Muslims. They think they own women the way the Muslims do -- as an animal, a trophy, a symbol they can destroy if it loses its value and makes them despised.
Even after all this time, the Sikhs want Ayeesha back as theirs; this Sikh shows the necklace she had been wearing is a Sikh one; she is rightly afraid they will proceed to kill her. Better later than never..
The son insists his mother go to a marketplace and declare she is Muslim so she will not be taken by the Sikhs and he can hold up his head in front of his thug-friends,, but this is dangerous and she won't. We begin to see that she hasn't gone for water for herself all these years. She has kept herself apart (very like Mary Lady Mason of Trollope's Orley Farm or one of Austen's heroines). Slowly she is ostracized as men tell "their" women to avoid her; she loses a group of girls she has been informally tutoring in tolerance. Her son begins to hate her for this, hate her. The son has moved from liking his mother going out to a wedding, to his resenting her school for girls where she teaches them tolerance from the Koran:
The son also had a girlfriend who early on in the film we see kiss on camera (very daring for an Indian film); he enjoyed her company and conversation. Now he becomes alienated from her as a liberated woman for he knows his gang of friends would not approve. In reality he and the gang are jealous she goes to women's college. He then becomes disgusted by what charmed him: her physical appearance and gaiety. He needs to be with his gang of male friends first and foremost and must not risk their disapproval. One scene has these thugs coming up to the local women's college, and trying to brick up the girls by making the wall around the school much higher
At its close the movie fast forwards past its 1981 locale (when most of the action takes place) to today where this apparently more middle class girl (she was in a woman's college) is a successful older career woman watching TV and she sees this woman's son on TV as part of a fanatic group. .
We see one of Ayesha's friends try to stay with her; we see the son's girlfriend try to help her, but they are so threatened themselves. We see how important she was to her pupils and the girlfriend's college is to the girls.
Ayeesha and a wavering but still loyal friend.
I leave everyone to imagine the quiet devastating end, which is swift. Silent waters. She jumps in a well rather than be killed or inhumanely treated by Sikhs or harassed and driven from her home to wander the streets. A swift simple shot. There she is in the distance standing on the rim of the well. And then she's gone. Forever.
As opposed to Jane Campion's Bright Star, this story moves along quietly and its content makes us feel after a while that we must stay silent while the. The story and characters carry themselves. I loved her many speeches, the tone she took. At the opening of the film she tells a friend when others want nothing to do with us (or want to hurt us) or some beloved or needed person dies that one must let things and people go. The tone was plangent and accepting. She stood bravely alone for much of her life since this husband died and we see her stoicism and enjoyment of little things in life: meagre food, talk with a pleasant person (her son's girlfriend). Something she said reminded me too of Andrew Davies's Elinor who when she is told Edward is married, tries to keep sane and calm and says, there's nothing new here, nothing we weren't expecting, it's just as we supposed and so there's nothing new to grieve for.
Needless to say (not always a bankrupt phrase), this is a feminist pro-woman classic. Women are victims. The film-maker shows us how useless it is to argue against this sense of male honor (they can't listen past their huge egos and desperate lack of self-esteem) and how it is used to frighten women, and especially when young girls.
The film is in Urdu and shows some of the characteristics of all Indian films. There is dancing -- fully integrated -- at the opening we get to one of these frightening weddings. Everyone is dressed super effeminately and the bride made into an elaborate fetish. There is the characteristic or typical plot structure of South Asian films: the opening horror, and then cut to a first half which is more pastoral, and then cut to the second where a modern world (not necessarily filled with modern thoughts sometimes more savage as this one) is contrasted. This one ends in despairing loneliness, stasis, death for the heroine..
Towards the end she is losing heart and falling sick, doesn't want to get up out of bed and face the day.
Not one to miss and a director, Sumar Sabitha, whose work is really worth watching. While reading and watching many female films and plays we decided their women's communities shows girls hostile to one another, and they true hurting people are not sympathized with. Sumar shows us how relationships stagger when they are broken up and how dangerous it is when one hafl of humanity must cater to a suspicious other. Indian cinema can be superb: see my blogs on Bend it Like Beckham, Water, and Fire and on Lagaan, Guru, and Bombay; Mississippi Marsala and Charulata.
The books to read this one with are Asnie Sieierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul, Shirin Ebadhi's Iran Awakening, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Things I've Kept Silent About.