Mental illness, unlike most physical conditions, is more often than not a source of shame rather than compassion in US society. But apparently within the South Asian community here, the reaction to psychiatric distress in families is even more extreme, and considered such a devastating humiliation that denial even of its existence, is the most common reaction.
The dramatic feature Hiding Divya tells the bittersweet tale of one such New York City family plagued by psychiatric troubles. And while simultaneously bidding to bring the problem out of the closet and to the table, within the greater Indian American community.
Pooja Kumar is Linny, the estranged adult daughter of Divya Shah (Madhur Jaffrey), who reluctantly returns to her childhood home following the sudden death of her stepfather. An unwed mother who left home after the birth of her daughter Jia (Madelaine Massey), now a teenager, Linny is faced with much more than consoling a grief stricken widow. Divya has been a schizophrenic in and out of remission for decades, a condition which the entire family has refused to face or seek treatment for, out of a sense of guilt and shame reinforced by disapproving cultural conventions within the community.
So while Linny explains her mother’s current mental disintegration to her daughter, appalled neighbors and intervening authorities as precipitated by the stress of sudden widowhood, Divya suffers acute psychological pain exacerbated by rejection and social isolation. And it is only when the enforced silence around Divya’s progressive new breakdown begins to affect Linny’s likewise emotionally vulnerable teenage daughter, that treatment is embraced with difficulty as an essential and necessary survival measure for this family in distress, and in spite of any prevailing cultural taboos.
Hiding Divya is graced with a decisive tough love empathy and sensitivity, even if some of the dramatic episodes would have benefited from a more subdued approach, and conflicts are resolved in a bit of a hasty manner. In any case, the significance of this story for the greater healing and collective understanding of an entire community, as presented by the sister filmmaking team of Rehana and Rohi Mirza, could not be more urgent and resonant.
Net Effect Media
2 1/2 stars