Widow of Silence, the third feature film by the National Award-winning filmmaker Praveen Morchhale, recently had its Indian release on MUBI following a highly successful festival run. Other than winning the Best Film Award in International Competition at the 2019 MOOOV Film Fest, Belgium, it also won the Best Screenplay Award for Morchhale at the 2019 Ottawa Indian Film Festival. Widow of Silence is also the winner of the Best Film Award at the 2019 IFFLA, Los Angeles. The Urdu-language film stars the noted theatre actor Shilpi Marwaha in the central role of Asiya—a Kashmiri half widow struggling to get a death certificate for her husband who has been missing for seven years—who lives with her 11-year-old daughter and ailing mother-in-law.
Morchhale, who won the UNESCO Gandhi Medal for cinematic excellence back in 2018, is known for his honest and humanistic cinema that harks back to the works of the Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami whose films has had a deep influence on him. The most striking aspect of Widow of Silence other than its poignant storyline is its breathtaking cinematography. Each and every frame of the film, captured by the well-renowned Iranian cinematographer Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah, oozes with the splendor and beauty that one often associates with the Kashmir Valley. Morchhale’s trademark long takes remind us that he is in no hurry to finish his task. He is fully aware that there is so much beauty out there for the eyes to capture. But there is also great pain in seeing the suffering that Asiya and her family goes through. And Morchhale relentlessly exposes us to this gnawing pain and endless beauty in Widow of Silence.
While Morchhale is known to work with non-actors in the great neo-realistic tradition he was forced to make an exception for the challenging role of Asiya, a part which demanded a trained actor. Now, Morchhale favors long takes in his films as he doesn’t believe in manipulating his viewers through fast cuts. Widow of Silence features a rather long scene between Asiya and her daughter which has been captured in its entirety through a single take. Morchhale within his heart of hearts knew that he wouldn’t be able to pull off the scene in a single take with a non-actor in the role of Asiya. So he decided to cast a trained actor instead.
In the recent times, we have had a bunch of films on Kashmiri half widows but Widow of Silence unlike most of those films isn’t interested in exploring the reason behind the husband’s disappearance. Here is a film that tracks the individual journey of a woman who has been waiting for years to get the death certificate for her husband through the legal channels. But the simple quest has turned out to a bureaucratic nightmare that threatens her family’s future and her own existence. Asiya is a victim of the situation and she is a portrait of so many other Kashmiri half widows who are only demanding a chance to live a life of dignity but even that has been denied to them.
A version of this review was first published in The Sunday Guardian.