The bride wore white. Except that she emerged with splashes of blood on her dress while her groom waited expectantly in another corner of the venue going through the rehearsal for the event. Horrified, he found his beloved Shirin had done the unthinkable; she killed a man on the day of her wedding.
Cut to the next scene. Shirin is in the interrogator’s room held by two women prison guards. Her would-have-been groom, as others, are bewildered. Why had this girl, beautiful, educated, and from a good family, committed this heinous crime? The mystery needs some unravelling as she refuses to talk about it.
Only a well-known woman lawyer, employed by her parents, breaks her barrier of silence. She did it to save a little girl from the man who tried to molest her. For, wasn’t she herself a victim of sexual abuse in her childhood — a secret she has carried in her tormented soul all through? Chancing upon the scene when this girl is being dragged to an isolated room by the caretaker of the building, all that hatred, fear and the instinct to save the little girl overtake Shirin and when the man tries to resist, she kills him.
Hush…Girls Don’t Scream, the film by Iranian filmmaker Pouran Derakhshandeh was shown at the recent 6th Bengaluru International Film Festival to applause from the audience. For one, to deal with a subject like paedophilia in a conservative country like Iran is not the easiest one. For another, the subject has a universal appeal, especially in conservative societies where incidents of sexual abuse of girls, often committed by close family members, are swept under the carpet.
“Many women, here in India and abroad, hugged me after the screening, their eyes streaming with tears, confiding in me that they too went through the trauma of the same nature as Shirin,” said Derakhshandeh.
Born in 1951, Derkhshandeh has been making movies spanning over last four decades with 12 feature-length films, which include critically acclaimed films like Endless Dreams, A Candle in the Wind, and dozens of documentaries.
She says she likes to challenge the role of woman in the society through the craft of cinema. Hush… is the first Iranian film on the subject of paedophilia, she said. It was not easy to tackle the subject because of its sensitive nature, and her script had to go through various stages of approval by the screening boards.
In the film, the director also raises questions of why members of the family, teachers in the school, never listened to the girl, or bothered to. When Shirin tries to confide why she was scared to go to school, or wakes up screaming at night, her father dismisses it as nightmares and the mother too does not take it seriously.
The driver was constantly abusing her while ferrying her to school or finding her alone at home, taking intimate pictures and threatening her that she would be killed if she talks about it.
So Shirin is caught in the web of physical abuse and fear till the family moves to another locality, her secret lying dormant in her that makes her break an engagement later and even try to commit suicide another time, until she meets her fiancé who changes her image of man with his tenderness. As Shirin asks at one poignant moment, “Where have you come from?”
Living in denial
Ironically, when Shirin names the family of the girl she had saved, they refuse to accept her version, move house too; another little girl is again hushed, because family honour is involved, a false sense of honour that sends many girls in India too to commit suicide or bear it like a cross throughout life.
The film also vindicates once again why Iranian films have ensured their place in the international film scenario. They tell stories that have a universal appeal and are told with great sensitivity. For example, in Hush… the director brings through the terror of the girl being abused, the tell-tale photos the perpetrator takes in such a way that even without resorting to graphic sexual scenes, you are bound to feel it, know it.
Derkhshandeh says that the film has received widespread acclaim in Iran. “Our society is more open now. We can discuss thorny social issues in our creative work. Hush… has opened a new window for discussion and generated debates,” she explains. She believes that movies made by women, for women, address issues that matter to women, “call it the feminist view if you like.”
Her next film will deal with divorce and one can perhaps expect an equally incisive look at another controversial subject in her society.