Sabiha Sumar's "Silent Waters"

Women Against the Current

In this compelling film, Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar tells the story of a woman who, at the time of the division of India and Pakistan, had to hide her true identity in order to survive. By Kirsten Schulz

In this compelling film, Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar tells the story of a woman who, at the time of the division of India and Pakistan, had to hide her true identity in order to survive. A film based on a true story that's closely tied to political developments in Pakistan from 1947 to today. Kirsten Schulz reports


Scene from "Silent Waters"

​​The village well is a terrifying place for Ayesha. As a young woman she almost lost her life there, forced to jump into the dark depths to save herself. She can't ever forget what happened, but now, in 1979, it's all long past.

Together with her 17-year-old son, Saleem, Ayesha lives in Charkhi, a village near Pakistan's border with India. Since her husband died, she has been supplementing her meager pension by giving Koran lessons to young girls, while her son dreams his days away. A contented life. Her only real worry is Saleem's future career.

But the tense political atmosphere in her country is also reason for concern. General Zia ul-Haq, who came to power two years ago in a putsch, intends to declare Pakistan an Islamist state. Not much of these changes can be felt yet in Ayesha's village.

At the barbershop, the men chat as they always have about everything and anything, schoolgirls dream of a future career as lawyer, and Saleem disappears on secret rendezvous with his first love.

Islamist inroads

photo: Straight.com
Sabiha Sumar

​​When two fundamentalists stop over in Charkhi, however, their brand of political-religious fanaticism soon falls on fertile ground. The tense situation escalates when some Indian Sikhs appear on the scene, making a pilgrimage to the village shrine for the first time in years. Events finally force Ayesha to reveal a long-kept secret - with dramatic consequences.

In her film "Silent Waters" Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar tells in a straightforward and uncommonly captivating manner the tragic tale of a woman who winds up as the focal point of a conflict and, not for the first time in her life, becomes the victim of political events beyond her control.

Women as victims of spiraling violence

Using Ayesha's son Saleem as example, Sumar revealingly shows how extreme ideas can take root and destroy the possibility of peaceful coexistence.

Those who suffer the most are the women and young girls. And thus Ayesha also stands for all of her fellow women who have always been, and continue to be, carried off, raped and murdered in times of war: "Ayesha is the woman in Bosnia, in Sri Lanka, in Afghanistan, in Iraq," commented the director.

A plea for tolerance and a film that broadens our own (historical) horizons, without taking a cautionary tone.

Kirsten Schulz

© fluter.de/Qantara.de 2004

Translation from the German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

(Khamosh Pani) Pakistan 2002, Director: Sabiha Sumar, Screenplay: Paromita Vohra, with Kirron Kher, Aamir Malik, Arshad Mahmud, Salman Shahid, Shilpa Shulka, Sarfaraz Ansari, Shazim Ashraf, Navtej Johar, Fariha Jabeen, Adnan Shah, OmU, Cinema release: 2 September 2004 from Academy Films

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