Khamosh Pani movie poster
|Directed by||Sabiha Sumar|
|Written by||Paromita Vohra|
|Starring||Kiron Kher, Shilpa Shukla, Aamir Malik|
|Running time||105 min.|
|Country||Pakistan / France / Germany|
|Language||Punjabi / Urdu|
Khamosh Pani (Urdu: خاموش پانی; lit. Silent Waters) is a 2003 French/German production about a widowed mother and her young son set in a late 1970s village in Punjab, Pakistan which is coming under radical influence.
The film was released in India too. It was shot in a village in Pakistan and won 7 awards, including Golden Leopard (Best Film), Best Actress and Best Direction at the 56th Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland.
The story opens in 1979 in the village of Charkhi in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Ayesha is a middle-aged widow whose life is centred around her only son, the teenager Saleem, who is in love with Zubeida, a teenage village schoolgirl. Ayesha manages to support herself and her son by her late husband's pension and by giving lessons in the Qur'an to village girls. Generally well-liked and regarded, the only odd thing about Ayesha is that she refuses to go to the village well, having her neighbor's daughters draw water for her. Some villagers such as Amin, the postman, are troubled by the recent hanging of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the new military ruler, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, who has promised to enforce Islamic law and encourages Islamic missionary and political groups to spread Islamism across Pakistan. Two activists from an Islamist group come to the village, and supported by the village "Choudhary" (landlord), start spreading their message of Islamic zealotry and gain recruits to fight the then-impending Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The older men in the village react with disdain for their message of intolerance and puritanism, express cynicism at Zia's continual postponement of democratic elections and are angered when the activists accuse them of being un-Islamic and traitors. Although they struggle amongst the older village men, the activists soon gain a following amongst the village youth, including Saleem. With a mixture of cajoling and intimidation, the activists bring Saleem with them to a political meeting in Rawalpindi, where the speakers exhort their audience to commit themselves to jihad (religious war) for the creation of a true Islamic state in Pakistan. Drawn by their missionary zeal and call to serve Islam and Pakistan, Saleem, who wants to lead a more meaningful life than that of a simple village farmer, abandons Zubeida and grows estranged from his mother. Ayesha tries to discourage him from following the Islamists, but fails. Saleem participates in the construction of a wall to surround the girls school to "protect" them and enforcing a shutdown of village shops during namaaz (prayer) time, in line with Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation. Both Ayesha and Zubeida are deeply alarmed at Saleem's transformation into an angry and hostile young man.
Following an agreement between the Indian and Pakistani governments, a group of Indian Sikh pilgrims arrives in Pakistan to visit and pray at Sikh holy sites. A small group of them come to Charkhi, their ancestral village, which they were forced to flee during the bloody partition of India in 1947, when Charkhi became part of the new Muslim state of Pakistan. One of the Sikh pilgrims wants to search for his lost sister, who he believes survived the violence. The Sikh visitors receive a cautious, mixed response from the Muslim villagers, receiving a warm welcome from the village barber while provoking hostility from the growing numbers of the young Muslim zealots. Saleem is angered and embarrassed when he learns that his mother send sweets and savories for the Sikh pilgrims, and that she teaches village girls that non-Muslims could also go to heaven. The Sikh pilgrim asks some of the villagers, including postman Amin, if they knew of any Sikh woman who survived the riots. They respond that they do not know, but Amin visits the hut of the Sikhs in the night and informs him to look for the woman who never goes to the village well. Following the girls who bring water to her house, the Sikh finds Ayesha. Upon seeing her, he asks her if she knows a Sikh woman who survived the riots, and she grows anxious and tells him to go away. Saleem sees the Sikh talking to his mother and shuts the door on him, but hears him call his mother "Veero" and that her aged father wanted to see her one time before he died. Saleem confronts his mother and is shocked to learn that Ayesha used to be Veero, a Sikh. A flashback sequence reveals that Veero was amongst a group of the village's Sikh women lining up to commit suicide by jumping into the village well rather than be raped by the rioting Muslim mobs at the time of partition. Although the Sikh men, including her father, want her to jump, Veero refuses and runs away, with only her little brother following her briefly. She is later caught by Muslim rioters and is raped and imprisoned. The man who raped her later feels remorse, and offers to marry Veero. Left alone with the shame of being a raped woman and a non-Muslim in Pakistan, Veero accepts his proposal, converts to Islam, marries him and starts a new life as Ayesha, a Pakistani Muslim.
Saleem reports this to his zealot friends, and although they say they do not have a problem with Saleem, who declares he is a true Pakistani and true Muslim, they demand that Ayesha make a public declaration of her belief in Islam. Saleem conveys this demand, but Ayesha refuses. This prompts an increasing boycott of Ayesha from the villagers, including her best friends. For the first time in more than thirty years, she is forced to go to the well and fetch her own water. She meets her Sikh brother at the well and refuses to accompany him, condemning her father for encouraging her to kill herself and asking how he would feel to know that she was living as a Muslim. This does not change her growing isolation, with only Zubeida keeping in touch with her. Realizing that the wounds of her past would not go away, and that she was still not accepted as a Muslim and would not be able to lead a normal life, Ayesha commits suicide by jumping into the well. Saleem buries her, gathers his mother's papers and belongings and throws them into the village river.
The film concludes in 2002 in Rawalpindi, with Zubeida, now a grown woman who still remembers Ayesha. While walking through the streets, she recognizes a bearded Saleem, now the secretary general of a major Islamist organisation, answering questions about the compatibility of Islamic law with democracy. The film belongs to a genre that includes literary works and films related to the theme of partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan and the atrocities associated with it.
- 2003: Locarno International Film Festival
- 2003: Nantes Three Continents Festival
- 2003: Karachi International Film Festival
- Swiss honour Pakistani movie BBC News, August 18, 2003.
- Silent waves, still waters The Hindu, December 2, 2004.
- Awards Internet Movie Database.
- Award Citations - 2003 Kara Awards Karachi International Film Festival Official website.
- Visiting Pakistan was like a pilgrimage: Kiron Kher Times of India, July 20, 2004.
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