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Films 2015 - India - Salma


Director: Kim Longinotto, 2013

Language: Tamil
90 mins. – UK-India

Salma is a story of rare achievement – a Muslim woman who writes her escape out of family servitude in southern India. The documentary of a woman telling her own story in her own voice in her own village is as poignant as it is simple.

SYNOPSIS: Salma was a young girl of 13 in her south Indian village, her family locked her up, forbidding her to study and forcing her into marriage. For 25 years, words were Salma's salvation. She began covertly composing poems on scraps of paper and, through an intricate system, was able to sneak them out of the house, eventually getting them into the hands of a publisher. Against the odds, Salma became the most famous Tamil poet: the first step to finding her own freedom and challenging the traditions and code of conduct in her village.

About Salma: Salma, at age 44 the protagonist of this film, is a distinguished poet in the Tamil language. Given to a young aunt as a child because her father wanted a son, she was returned to her birth parents at five, and confined at puberty according to local practice in a room with one barred window that she shared with a sister. Once she’s married off, her husband’s family keeps her inside their home, where she begins writing, locked in the foul toilet that the entire family used, with a hidden pen on paper ripped from a calendar.

After more than 20 years of confinement, her poems reach the outside world. A journalist publishes her photograph, and village elders are furious. It’s too late –Salma runs for local elected office and her writings find a public, but the status of women in the village has barely changed. “She’s a good girl, but she’s too clever,” says Salma’s father.

In this frank portrait of women’s life, shot without crescendos or drama, the practices from the past remain current, and the locals are unrepentant for their unchanged ways. So are Salma’s nephews and sons, who are indifferent to her poetry and defend the wearing of the burka and the ban of cinema.

At every turn the director uncovers evidence that past injustices still rule. We visit more than one wedding where a child bride is prepared for the first night with her arranged husband. Longinotto does not need to overplay these scenes, as a young girl shivering with fear prepares to exchange one master for a new one. To paraphrase Salma, “We have so much time, but no life.”