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Hiding Divya -- Film Review

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Sociology trumps storytelling in writer-director Rehana Mirza's microbudget debut film dealing with the devastating effects of a woman's mental illness on her family. Although well-meaning in its attempt to dramatize the stigma the subject evokes in the South Asian American community, "Hiding Divya" ultimately falters in its execution.

Set in suburban New Jersey, the film revolves around three generations of women: matriarch Divya (Madhur Jaffrey); her daughter Linny (Pooja Kumar), who left years earlier after getting pregnant while still a teenager; and Linny's 16-year-old daughter Jia (Madelaine Massey).

All three are troubled in one way or another: Divya clearly is suffering from a serious bipolar disorder, which only has gotten worse after the death of her American husband; Linny is rebellious and resentful of the difficulties her mother's condition has placed upon her; and Jia deals with her adolescent angst by repeatedly cutting herself.

Alternately hysterical and catatonic, Divya has a habit of sleeping in a car parked in the driveway, suffering from hallucinations glimpsed through the rear-view mirror. Linny essentially tries to ignore her mother's condition, but inevitably the problem becomes too visible to hide.

Although the three main characters are well-drawn, the film suffers from clumsy storytelling and an overly melodramatic, TV-movie-style approach. Indicative of the latter is a scene in which Linny complains to a family friend that "this community sucks," to which he responds by throwing open the refrigerator door to reveal multiple containers of food provided by the neighbors, each carefully labeled with the name of the donor.

The film's most powerful element is the fiercely committed performance by veteran Jaffrey, who vividly conveys the horrors of her character's devastating illness.

Opens: Friday, Aug. 20 (Net Effect Media)
Cast: Pooja Kumar, Madhur Jaffrey, Deep Katdare, Madelaine Massey, Kunal Sharma, Stu Richel, Olivia Ordway Guerrieri
Director-screenwriter: Rehana Mirza
Producer: Rohi Mirza Pandya
Executive producers: Gitesh Pandya, Deep Katdare, Vijay Vaidyanathan
Director of photography: Renato Falcao
Editor: Michelle Botticelli
Production designer: Arati Nath
Music: Samrat Chakrabarti
No rating, 82 minutes