'Hiding Divya' tackles mental illness

Madhur Jaffrey stars as bipolar title character

NEW DELHI -- Inspired by true events, English-language drama “Hiding Divya” -- which opens Friday in select U.S. theaters -- will bring to light the issue of mental illness and its related stigmas in the South Asian-American community.

The debut feature from sister filmmakers Rehana Mirza (writer/director) and Rohi Mirza Pandya (producer), “Hiding Divya” tells the story of three generations of women and the taboos created in the South Asian-American community from mental illness in the family.

The film stars acclaimed actress Madhur Jaffrey (known for her appearance in a number of films by the Merchant-Ivory duo) as the main character Divya Shah, whose bipolar illness has been denied and covered up for years. Co-starring are actress Pooja Kumar (“Bollywood Hero") and actor Deep Katdare (“Bombay Dreams”).

“While making this film, I was surprised by how many prominent South Asians — actors, directors, fellow colleagues —offered to help because they have a father, a grandmother or another loved one who suffers from mental illness. Hopefully, “Hiding Divya” will bring the subject into the light — humanize the problem, challenge the community, and eradicate a pernicious trend of denial and stigma,” said Rehana Mirza.

“Hiding Divya” earlier did the festival rounds, playing at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival and the Asian American International Film Festival.

“Divya” will bow in New York, New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area in select theaters owned by the Big Cinemas chain (part of Reliance Big Entertainment), while additional markets including Atlanta and Detroit will be added the following weekend. Net Effect Media has acquired U.S. distribution rights and the producers hope to conclude agreements for other territories including India and the U.K.

The film's opening night screening at Big Cinemas Manhattan is sponsored by the Indo-American Arts Council and will feature a Q&A with Mirza.

“My friends' stories revealed to me a shocking tendency for South Asians to treat mental illness as something to be hidden or ignored,” said Mirza. “By making a film about the illness within the South Asian community, I thought, perhaps, I could help to break down cultural barriers so that others facing mental illness would not unduly suffer from this universal taboo.”
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