Hiding Divya

Rehana Mirza’s locally set (New York/New Jersey) film  touches on something I don’t think I’ve ever seen represented in any Indian-American production before: mental illness.

Madhur Jaffrey plays Divya, the recently widowed mother of Palini, or Linny, (Pooja Kumar) and grandmother to the teenage Jia (Madelaine Massey).  

As the movie opens, we  see  Linny and Jia are faced with eviction from their place in the city, just as they must go back to New Jersey for a few weeks to help with the funeral, and collect an inheritance.   It’s evident early on that Linny and her mother have not got on well for a long time, and Linny actually has the day circled on a calendar for when she can “get the hell out of here.”   At first, Jia doesn’t understand why her mother is so on edge at home, but it soon becomes apparent that Divya has a mental illness and is having spells of paranoid and irrational behaviour.   Linny tries to ignore it and wait the attacks out, while young Jia is concerned, and starting to  exhibit some worrying behaviour herself.   The situation comes to a climax just before the funeral.

For a movie whose action is set in New Jersey, and even includes a visit to Oak Tree Road, the Ground Zero of Indian shopping – food, clothes, jewelry and otherwise – in Edison, the central theme here is not the question of identity.

Generational and cultural differences are portrayed (first generation emigrés and friends of Divya scandalized by the out-of-wedlock granddaughter, Jia), it seems that characters like Jia, and the doctor, Ravi Das, played by Deep Katdare, the school chum of Linny’s who’s always there to help her and clearly carries a torch for the thirtysomething beauty, are comfortable in their skin with their hyphenated heritage, and don’t seem to worry about it too much.  

The only exception here is Linny, who clearly feels exposed being back in Jersey, because she assumes that her community is judging her for her past behaviour.   There’s a very sweet moment after the funeral when arguing with Ravi about “your community” when he tries to make the point that they have come together to support her struggles with her mother,  and he opens the packed refrigerator to reveal bowl after bowl of Tupperware containing dishes made for the family, each labelled with the family’s name that sent it.  

This is not an easy film to watch, especially for anyone whose parents are older and who thinks about what may lie ahead in both their own lives and what remains of their parents’, but I say that because it is such a touching movie and because Madhur Jaffrey portrays the attacks of Divya’s illness so well, you feel so bad for her anguish that you almost have to look away from the screen.

The trio of actresses work well together, though Pooja Kumar’s emotions once she returns to Jersey seem to hover mainly between  annoyance and anger.  

It would be interesting to see Deep Katdare in a leading role in the future where he’s not part of a large ensemble cast, as he was in American Desi also.  

Rehana Mirza should be proud that she’s created a film that deals with an important issue in an unblinking manner and without taking an easy way out at the story’s end.   It’s also encouraging to see three strong women in central roles, for a refreshing change.

See it or skip it?

See it.   And remember to bring some tissues.

This movie was screened Friday, November 3rd at the Indo-American Arts Council’s sixth film festival.

4 thoughts on “Hiding Divya

  1. Hi Maria,
    Thanks for this very nice suggestion, indeed the film sounds very interesting. I enjoy films which are not “easy to watch”, even though those that are, naturally can provide a good show too!

  2. Hi,
    My friend from Kerala has highly recommended a Malayalam film starring Mohanlal named “Tanmatra”, in which he plays a family man diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. There was heated discussion comparing Amitabh’s performance in Black with that of Mohanlal’s in this movie.

    Did you get a chance to watch this one?

    Talking of Malayalam films, I would recommend the movie GURU, (released in 1997) starring Mohanlal. It had an unusual story, with EXCELLENT music by Maestro Ilaiya raaja.

  3. Regarding your comment about Deep Katdare – he will soon be seen in “Indian Cowboy” releasing Feb 07 in selected theatres. A twist for Deep fans — he doesn’t speak a single line of dialog in the movie. Its all in his eyes, so to speak. 😉

    For a sneak preview of the trailer, check out

    And the film’s website is

    Congratulations to the Hiding Divya team on their success, and kudos and thanks for bringing such an important facet into the public eye!


  4. This sounds like a very interesting film. I wonder how it compares with the recent films “Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara”, “15 Park Avenue” and “Tehzeeb”? Have you seen any of them?

    The first stars Anupaum Kher as a retired professor dealing with the onset of his Alzeimers, and how his family (especially his daughter Urmila Matondkar) deals with the adjustments. 15 PA is the latest from director Aparna Sen, showing three women (a mother and two daughters) and how they react to the youngest’s bouts of schizophrenia. Great cast here, Waheeda Rehman as the mother and Shabana Azmi and Konkona Sen Sharma as the daughters.

    In Tezeeb the issue is similar to the framework of 15 PA, but it is more of a traditional entertainer, and the mother in this one is Shabana, who is a very powerful and egocentric character, as opposed to Waheeda’s gentle pliabilty in 15 PA, but Tezeeb provides good conflict scenes between Shabana and Urmila. I’m afraid Diya Mirza’s afflicted daughter isn’t as strong as Konkona’s either. The family dynamic is the most interesting thing in all three films. I’d be interested to hear what you think, filmi.

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