The World Unseen (2008)

Starring: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Seth.

Based on the book by Shamim Sarif, this is the second film from the same; writer/director as well as the two leads, in the same year as I can’t think straight.

This is a marvellously gently paced film about the Indian society living within 50’s Apartheid South Africa. Centred, though not entirely focused upon, two young Indian ladies (the leads from ICTS), Amina Harjan and Miriam, who are of two entirely different characters.

Amina Harjan is a rebellious (for the time) young woman who co-owns and runs her own business with a coloured (as in mix between black and white racial background as defined by Apartheid South Africa in the film as opposed to my definition) man, Jacob, who is equally rebellious in a quieter, subtler manner (he is enamoured with a white woman, the postmistress, who reciprocates his feelings, though their story is somewhat hastily thrown into the mix). She is independent and lives as she likes, how she likes, she is everything a traditional young Indian woman is not expected to be.

Miriam is a married mother of three, her husband; Omar, seems somewhat disinterested in her to the point where he has an affair with his brothers wife. She lives within a stricter lifestyle, she is expected to stay at home and she is somewhat isolated and lonely.

In the beginning of the film, Miriam and Omar live with Omar’s brother and his family until they move to the tiny town of Delhof, where Miriam is even more isolated than ever. On one occasion, when they still live with Omar’s brother, the two women go out to Amina’s café, where Amina and Miriam appear to ‘click’ over kookesistas (a type of donut). Miriam, like the rest of the Indian community, had heard about Amina and was curious to meet her.

Amina comes to Delhof to create a vegetable garden at Omar’s request. Amina is evidently interested in Miriam and treats her as a human and one worthy of attention at that, se encourages her to be herself, to challenge her life. They compliment each other, their personalities and attitudes very clearly. Miriam grounds Amina who in turn helps Miriam to feel more like she used to as well as help her not to be so lonely. They share a somewhat instant attraction, which they both try to fight, Amina because she doesn’t want Miriam to become even more isolated by society and Miriam due to her family (or at least, her children) commitments and ties, she will not leave them, so she doesn’t dare to hope for anything with Amina.

Amina teaches Miriam to drive, so as to offer her some freedom from the restraints Omar places upon her, and offers her a job at the café. The film ends with Miriam deciding to accept the job, but it is left unclear as to how their relationship progresses or not. One would like to think that they do progress, even if I secret, for their attraction and general pull towards each other is palpable.

The film has several links to the American film Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café from 1991, with obvious comparisons to the characters Idgie and Ruth. This is a well-acted film, with very realistic character and relationship development, though if anything it is a little rushed compared to the intricately interwoven plot of the novel, after all the film is only an hour and thirty minutes, it could certainly stand to be another thirty minutes longer to allow for more development of the overall storylines.

It is a very engaging watch, with beautiful cinematography, rich in elements of the era and country.

Also, that the leads play opposite characters to the ones they played in ICTS is good to see them both being allowed to branch out and portray something different, particularly as the cast and crew are almost identical. The script is tighter and cleaner of wording and meaning than its earlier counterpart. It is evident from the lack of cliché that the director has now had prior experience, whilst this film still shows signs of inexperience, it is by far a better film for that experience, and in that sense it is better to watch them in order of production to see that development.

Overall the film is too short and somewhat rushed compared to the book, granted you cannot get the same amount of depth and texture as you can show in a novel, it is a good adaptation. It is far more engaging than ICTS, probably because it is less predictable or knowable than the first film and you want them to be together even more than you did with Leyla and Tala, probably because you kind of knew that they would get together despite the obstacles, whereas Miriam and Amina have more to overcome, such as society, to be together.

8/10

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About Nerdsbian

I am a nerd for ALL seasons. I am a genderqueer Librarian who unsurprisingly likes reading...a lot But I love being outside too...sometimes even reading at the same time. Also animals, any and all of them. Never yet met one that didn't get on with me and vice versa. I do a couple of different voluntary jobs (animal charity related) and have recently completed my MA.
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