“The Silence”… A quieter addition to this year’s roster of dramas around rape

Posted on October 9, 2017


Spoilers ahead…

Manda (Kadambari Kadam) is one of the many extras on the fringes of filmdom, as replaceable as the next one, but one thing sets her apart: she won’t sleep with the agent to get ahead. He insists. She protests. She says she’s here to be an actress, not a whore. Given how the rest of Gajendra Ahire’s The Silence plays out, this is an uncharacteristically obvious scene — but like the rest of the film, it unfolds without fuss. The agent isn’t positioned as an embodiment of unspeakable evil, and Manda isn’t hailed for her stand either. Ahire observes. He doesn’t judge. The scene, which occurs early in the film, sets up the running theme about predator and prey.

The year has seen so many stories of rape and revenge (MomMaatrBhoomi) that you may wonder if we need another one — but The Silence is different. The title refers not just to the victims, who suffer silently, but also the filmmaking. Take the opening stretch with Manda’s younger sister, Chini (Mugdha Chaphekar), in a local train, with headphones on, unable to hear the screams of the woman being molested in the seat behind her. It’s another kind of silence. Because we don’t see them in the same frame, we barely realise they are both in the same compartment. But once the headphones come off and Chini sees what’s going on, she finds she cannot shut out the noise — not just because of what’s happening to the woman but because this has happened to her.

Ahire takes his time getting there. We cut to a younger Chini in her village, and her bucolic life with her father, a cotton candy seller (Raghuvir Yadav, who’s peerless at evoking pathetic desperation). This is a poor but happy family, and it’s contrasted with a richer, sadder one. Nagraj Manjule plays Chini’s uncle (her mother’s brother), and his wife (Anjali Patil) stares out of the kitchen window, wondering about the neighbour’s child. Maybe because she is childless. Or maybe because she needs something to think about, occupy herself with, in the absence of any meaningful communication with her husband, who sleeps around, presumably to keep asserting his masculinity. (He can get it up. It can’t possibly be his fault.) Chini, who lost her mother when she was born, doesn’t judge her aunt. “Don’t have a child,” she says. “Or you will die too.” But in a way, the woman is already dead.

The most powerful scene in the film has the Patil character registering the fact that her husband has raped Chini. We knew this was coming the moment Chini gets her period and is packed off to stay with her uncle. Still, the scene is staged chillingly, silently — the camera follows Chini into a yawning godown as her uncle, who’s just been snubbed by a woman, regards her. Later,  Chini thrashes about in her sleep. Her aunt takes her to the kitchen, sees what has happened. Patil is wonderful here. She shows no horror, no anger — just resignation. It’s as though she knew this was coming, as though this is as much of a coming-of-age in these parts as the onset of puberty.

The heinousness of the uncle’s action is exacerbated by the fact that just earlier, he had taken Chini to the market, bought her frocks and toys — but when that woman snubs him and Chini wanders in, it’s like he’s a new man. The indulgent uncle transforms into a monster. By showing both sides (and through Manjule’s understated menace), Ahire humanises the character, makes him more terrifying than someone who is all-out bad. This is worse. You think you are safe and…

In terms of incident, there’s a lot happening in The Silence. People find out. There are repercussions. But Ahire never raises his voice. Even the Patil character’s actions, which you see coming (and which could have been fleshed out better), aren’t portrayed as womanly vengeance. The end is bittersweet, hinged between two lines: “He deserved much more than being in jail” and “Everybody’s version of the story may be different but the pain is the same.” The former suggests triumph, that circumstances have been overcome, but the latter hints that the scars are there to stay.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Marathi