Director: Sabiha Sumar
Scriptwriter: Paromita Vohra
Editor: Bettina Bohler
Cinematographer: Ralph Netzer
Music: Arjun Sen
Cast: Kiron Kher, Aamir Malik, Shilpa Shukla
Women of substance
The similarities were striking: In The Hamburg Cell, which narrated the story of the Sept. 11 hijackers, youngsters from the Arab world, living in the West, are exposed to an extremist way of thinking. The protagonist is an unwitting hero, dragged into the flow of things, with a force he doesn’t realise.
Later in the day, viewing Khamosh Pani, the young protagonist’s leap to aggression, albeit in a different setting prompted an immediate reaction: Is alternate cinema today charting out extremism and its impact on the world? Is hard-hitting reality the only raw material, the food for thought for film makers?
A little into the movie, despite the similarities in the story build-up, for which none of the filmmakers are to be blamed, the winner of the Golden Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival, Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani gently takes a twist: The film is now no longer about the “State’s impact on its people nor about the waves of hatred spewed out under various guises. It simply becomes a statement of a bold woman, who must face the world, alone.
Kiron Kher’s Ayesha thus stands tall in Khamosh Pani, as a lady who lives and end life based on her own rules. Shot extensively in Wah, Pakistan, the film is evocative in its unpretentious takes on human life – that the context is 1970s Pakistan is purely coincidental. Ayesha’s blind love for her son is as relevant in that village, which also had to bear the pain of Partition, as anywhere else in the world. So is her pain as she gently watches the impressionable Salim drift away to another world that can only hurt both the mother and son.
The decision of Pakistan’s decision, during the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq to allow Indian Sikhs, who had left the country to worship at their shrines, marks the turning point of the film. In the village, where the general’s followers are imposing a strict Islamic code, the arrival of one man, who is also seeking his long-lost sister, Veero, marks disaster. Veero is Ayesha and that knowledge troubles Saleem, who is dreaming a political career disturbs no end. Her little secret, now a public revelation, makes Ayesha realise that she cannot continue on with dignity. She ends her life.
Parallel to Ayesha’s story, is the portrayal of Zubeida (Shilpa Shukla), who represents the modern face of Pakistani women. She had dreamt of going to the city to study, get a job, buy a mixer and ceiling fan, and she gets it all. On the way, she loses Saleem, who many years later has indeed achieved his aspirations.
Khamosh Pani belongs to Kiron Kher. Ayesha is one of her finest portrayals and she is ably backed by the young actor Amir Malik from Quetta and Shilpa. A horde of supporting actors from Pakistan lends the film the vital touch of authenticity. Mood-based cinematography, powerful background score, some enjoyable songs, and above all the essential simplicity of the film’s narration make Khamosh Pani, the winner that has been acknowledged to be.
– Rajeev Nair