'The Silence': Goa Film Bazaar Review

Courtesy of SMR Films
Director Gajendra Ahire creates a resonant drama around the terrible choices facing Indian women involved in sexual violence.

Anjali Patil and Nagraj Mangule star in three women’s struggle to overcome the atmosphere of fear around rape and child abuse.

Although the once-taboo topic of rape has become so common in Indian films it threatens to dull viewers’ outrage through overuse, The Silence still has a cutting edge. Marathi writer-director Gajendra Ahire approaches the story of an abused child and the scar she carries into her adult life with novelistic realism, at least in the rural scenes, until dramatic twists lead to an uplifting finale. The involving story wraps living, breathing characters in a glowering atmosphere of pain and anger, until women take violence into their own hands. It’s an ambiguous message, but a good introduction to the work of this prolific, out-of-the-box indie director, and its timely social theme has already launched it on the festival circuit.

Though less quirky than some of Ahire’s work, like the wry stories in the off-beat Postcard or circus film Touring Talkies, The Silence shares their character-driven charm and their love of strong women. The protags are all female, beginning with the vulnerable, innocent child Chini (Mugdha Chaphekar) and her older sister (Kadambari Kadam), an aspiring actress who knows how to defend herself against a casting director’s indecent proposals. But the linchpin is their young aunt, the silent victim of a violent, abusive husband who has made her a prisoner in her own home. Played with heartbreaking humility and self-sacrifice by Anjali Patil (With You, Without You), she offers another view of Indian women and their courage under extreme circumstances.

Chini is in her 20s and living with her sister in the city when, coming home late one night, she witnesses the horrific rape of an ordinary girl just like herself. An old wound is opened and the past comes flooding back to her.

Flashback to her childhood in the country with her widowed Dad (the fuzzy-warm Raghuvir Yadav of Salaam Bombay). An uncontrollable alcoholic, he offsets their poverty selling cotton candy on his bicycle. This father is a little too pathetic for comfort, and clearly too weak to protect his daughter. When she gets her first period, he sends her to live with his rich brother-in-law, played with offhanded, all-round violence by Nagraj Manjule. There she is cared for by his childless wife (Patil), a battered wife who, like her father, seems to be in denial about the danger lurking in the house.

While the story is a familiar one, the cast brings it to life dramatically. In his first major acting role, Manjule (director of the award-winning film Fandry) projects an air of frightening arrogance and misogyny. Chini’s actress-sister is the weak link, too flippant by far in the scenes on a Bollywood set. Such a serious drama about silence vs. responsibility begs for more subtlety.

Leading fusion music group Indian Ocean supplies a highly listenable soundtrack.

Production company: SMR Films

Cast: Raghuvir Yadav, Nagraj Manjule, Anjali Patil, Kadambari Kadam, Mugdha Chaphekar, Vedashree Mahajan, Suresh Vishkawarma, Mihiresh Joshi

Director: Gajendra Ahire

Screenwriters: Ashwini Sidwani, Gajendra Ahire

Producers: Ashwini Sidwani, Arpan Bhukhanwala, Navneet Hullad Moradabadi,

Director of photography: Krishna Kumar Soren

Production designer: Santosh Phutane

Costume designer: Khushboo Doshi, Simran Ashwini

Editor: Mayur Hardas

Music: Indian Ocean

Sound design: Vijay Bhope

Not rated, 91 minutes.