The Silence movie review: Gajendra Ahire’s Marathi film is relevant, contextual and hurtful

Pradeep Menon

Oct 07, 2017 12:09:33 IST


A young girl named Chini, who lives in a village with just her father; a junior artiste in Mumbai, struggling to make it big in this great, grotesque city that always promises so much more than it delivers; a forlorn wife to a man who represents the average Indian male chauvinist in many ways — these are the characters in Gajendra Ahire’s The Silence that, in their own way, show us what it’s like to be a woman, not just in India, but anywhere in the world.

Based on a true story, Ahire’s latest work is paradoxical in many ways. The film is a simple one, about something that has always been a serious issue, but has found traction with the public more now than ever before – omnipresent misogyny and sexual abuse. But there is a rich, nuanced, earthy complexity to Ahire’s narrative, which warrants multiple viewings, so that you uncover the film’s many little intricacies.

A still from Gajendra Ahire's The Silence.

The film hurts at many levels, because as always, Ahire’s frames are gorgeous and layered with meaning. The thing about Ahire is, for him a shot is never just a device to frame characters in. Nothing is accidental, everything has meaning. You don’t discover the characters based merely on what they say and do, but also by the spaces they inhabit, and how Ahire chooses to frame them.

*Minor spoiler ahead*

Thus, a godown we see many times in the film, remains just that – a godown. Except when Chini enters it for the first time, and she’s about to experience the worst thing that could happen to her. Then, the godown is framed like an unending abyss, as she walks deeper into it.

*Spoiler ends*

Even in other scenes, when we see a girl or woman in the frame with a man, there is much to discover about the dynamic between them just by the way they are positioned. It’s one of the reasons why Ahire’s films are often so powerful, and why The Silence will affect you even though it doesn’t tell you anything you don’t know. You know women aren’t treated equally everywhere, but you don’t know what these women – and women in these situations out in the real world – have to go through. The Silence, then, is a gentle reminder that for women, the struggle is real.

The film is held up by some fine acting, particularly from Sairat director Nagraj Manjule, who infuses his character with character, so to speak. He is meant to evoke emotional responses, and he does so with ease. Anjali Patil, who appeared in Newton as the local girl in the team of election officials, is even better here. She and Ahire use her expressive face well, even though the film could have done without a few of those dramatic pauses.

In fact, that’s perhaps the only aspect of the film where Ahire could, perhaps, have chosen a slightly different approach. For a film that’s this real, this intimate, this heart-breaking, there are times when those gentle, steady, precise camera movements (and those dramatic pauses), could have instead been treated with edgier, closer hand-held shots.

When Patil’s character says, ‘When a woman is born, her fate is decided,’ you yearn, instead, for a line that you didn’t see coming all along, even though this line is in the film because the point of the film is just that. Or even when the film casually puts out a ‘not all men’ moment, despite the fact that it really didn’t need it.

There is also the non-linear narrative of the film, which aids it quite often, but also appears forced a few times. There’s a difference between a flashback and a film that shows you another timeline in a character’s life, and this difference blurs often because of the non-linear manner in which Ahire has chosen to narrate its story, begging the question if such an austere story required that transcendent narrative technique in the first place.

Another place where the film needed work, particularly for non-Marathi speaking audiences, is in the subtitles. There are times when the subtitle line just doesn’t convey what the character actually said while speaking, which does hurt the cause of the film occasionally.

The Silence may not rank among Ahire’s best work, primarily because you’d be comparing it with a rather stellar line-up. But it is an intriguing addition to his filmography, because the film is relevant and universal, but also hurtful in a way that only half the population will truly be able to feel.

Updated Date: Oct 07, 2017 15:25:08 IST