It is very likely that Sabina Sumar's award-winning feature Khamosh Pani a.k.a Silent Waters will create different reactions among Western viewers as opposed to a crowd of native Pakistanis or Indians. The film goes back to 1979 when General Zia-ul-Haq declares Pakistan a Muslim state and follows the story of Ayesha (Kiron Kher) and her son Saleem as they attempt to survive the rising radical Islamism. Silent Waters is charged with so much controversy that many familiar with the current relations between Pakistan and their neighbor India will find this film fascinating to watch.
What captured my attention in this simple yet unusual story of survival was the unique look at Pakistan's past which Sabina Sumar's recreates with an impressive easiness. While the story somewhat entertained my interest it was the sincere reactions of the actors that truly impressed me. Make no mistake, the complicated relations between powerhouses India and Pakistan, the manner in which the establishment of Islam is portrayed, and especially the violent conflict between Muslims and Sikhs which Silent Waters recreates flawlessly have to be seen to be believed. There is much more than acting in this film, there is a lot of history! For many Western viewers, myself included, Silent Waters is as close as one could get to the unfortunate past of a country divided by religious hatred.
I was watching Silent Waters and I could not stop thinking how very little has changed since the time this film depicts. While Pakistan is now a "moderate" country the ongoing tensions with neighboring India are still a reality. In addition, instead of General Zia-ul-Haq Pakistan now have Genaral Musharaf. They are different you might say, and I am willing to accept your claim but the religious hatred, the raging fundamentalism, and of course the suspicion which Muslims and Sikhs have for each other are still there.
Aside from the traditional Bollywood soundtrack Silent Waters is a film that has nothing in common with the thousands of films which the region produces each other. This is a very serious analysis of part of our world that lives in a constant threat of a nuclear conflict. Silent Waters is also a film that partially explains us how religious hatred and fundamentalism are being bred, how they are being encouraged, how often one is unable to successfully confront them. This is also a film that hopefully will spur some serious discussions that will ultimately allow Western viewers to better grasp the enormously complicated situation in Pakistan.
Silent Waters is the winner of the Golden Leopard Award (Sabina Sumar) and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Locarno Film Festival (2003).
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 the print looks about average to me. First of all despite the deceivingly good-looking colors and tolerable degree of contrast there is some well-hidden "ghosting" which indicates to me that the print was converted from a PAL master. Even worse, this time around whoever approved this presentation dropped the ball as the image looks visibly stretched (long faces, unusual symmetry, etc) which most definitely indicates a flawed transfer. Quite unfortunate indeed!
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Dolby Digital Pakistani track and burnt-in English subtitles the presentation leaves much to be desired (why the fixed subs). With such a beautiful soundtrack this should have been at least a DVD which offers an elaborate 5.1 track.
Q&A with Human Rights expert Smita Narula-
Film Notes by Human Rights Watch-
Human Rights Watch Selects-
About Human Rights Watch-
A powerful film Silent Waters goes to the roots of the existing religious conflict between India and Pakistan. This is without a doubt a disturbing view of a part of our world where basic human rights are easily violated. A fascinating watch for anyone interested in learning more about a country on the crossroad of time!
Unfortunately the presentation leaves much to be desired therefore I am forced to give this an otherwise spectacular film a RENT IT mark.