The World Unseen (2007)




Director:     Shamim Sarif. 

Starring:     Lisa Ray (Miriam), Sheetal Sheth (Amina Harjan), Parvin Dabas (Omar), Nandana Sen (Rehmat), David Dennis (Jacob), Grethe Fox (Madeleine), Colin Moss (De Witt), Natalie Becker (Farah), Rajesh Gopie (Sadru), Bernard White (Mr. Harjan), Avantika Akerkar (Mrs. Harjan), Amber Rose Revah (Begum), Leonie Casanova (Doris), Roderick Priestley (Stewart), Ethan Sarif-Kattan (Sam).

the Indian community and its reaction to apartheid illustrated by the problems faced by two women establishing a relationship


Spoiler warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Cape Town , South Africa, 1952.  A police sergeant named Stuart comes into an Indian restaurant.  He says hello to the beautiful Amina Harjan as he comes into the place.  He then says hello to Jacob, the owner.  The policeman is a bit upset because he sees that in the restaurant there are blacks eating in the dining area and they know it is not allowed to let blacks and whites intermix.  Amina tells the sergeant that there are not whites in the dining area at this time.  The sergeant demands that the blacks show him their passes.  He quizzes a light-skinned black.  She explains to him that she doesn't have a pass because she is colored and not black.  He tells her she looks like a kaffir (the N word) to him. 

The sergeant's colleague comes into the restaurant and he starts firing his weapon into the ceiling.  He asks the sergeant why is he even talking to these people?  He adds:  "You keep serving blacks and we'll kill the lot of them."  The police leave. 

An Indian father leaves for work in the morning.  The kids, Sam and Yasmine, have to get ready to leave for school.  The mother, Miriam, is pregnant again.  Miriam washes the kitchen floors when her sister comes over to tell her to get dressed quick.  The husband has given them permission to go out and they are doing just that.  They go to the Location Cafe where Amina is the owner.  The colored waitress drops some plates right in front of Miriam and Miriam stoops down to help her pick up the dishes.  Her friends that that the restaurant has staff to do that, Miriam.  Amina is impressed that Miriam would stop to help the waitress, but Miriam's friend does not like Amina because, she says, she always dresses like a man. 

The Indian family is going to Delhof in the country. The husband has a store there.  His sister-in-law comes on to him when they are alone in the store.  They have sex.  (Not shown.)  She then tells her brother-in-law to come visited her in Cape Town because he also comes there one day a week.  The kids arrive home from school. 

Mother is about to have her baby.  She has a baby girl. 

An Indian mother visits her son in South Africa.  She says the problem with South Africa is that there are just too many blacks.  She urges him to come back to India with her.  She then asks how will Amina find a good husband in this place with so many blacks?  She is very worried about Amina.  She doesn't like the idea that Amina is always working.  Her son says Amina will never come to their house.  Mother says that it's Amina's duty to be where he family expects to be.

Amina arrives and her sister-in-law says that they are already here and she must hurry.  She also asks if Amina is going into the dinner in her male attire?  Yes. But Amina does put on a blouse with an Indian design on it.  Amina decides to help her sister-in-law serve the food.  A young man is at the dinner party and he asks her would she want a boy for her first child?  Amina says she doesn't care if it's a boy or a girl as long as they are healthy. 

Miriam's husband tells her that he has to go to Cape Town for the weekend.  He says he got a letter from his sister Rehmat.  Miriam comments, oh, yes, the one from France.  The husband is surprised that his wife knew this.  He says he is going to sleep.  He walks away leaving the letter behind.  Miriam picks it up and is going to look at it, but her husband returns to take the letter from her. 

Farah and her husband are preparing to receive some guests. Omar, Miriam and the kids arrive at the house.  Omar doesn't see his sister and asks where is she?  She went to the Hotel Royal to pickup James.  Omar comments that that's a stupid thing to do.  Are they trying to get caught?  "They shouldn't even be here."  The sister arrives with James.  At the dinner Miriam asks James isn't he afraid of being caught?  Her sister-in-law says James is an idealist.  It is only now that Miriam learns that Omar and his sister are fraternal twins. 

Omar and Miriam and James and Omar's sister got to the Location Cafe.  Omar doesn't like Amina the owner very much.  He asks if any of the other Indian girls have such curly hair.  His sister asks him if he is implying that she has come black in her?  Yes.  Sister is upset with Omar saying that some day people might be saying that one of her daughters is part Indian as if it were a bad thing.

A white woman, Madelilne, runs the post office and she has taken a liking to the main waiter at Location Cafe.  The fellow has some black genes in his DNA.  She smiles as the waiter waits in the colored line.  The white customer looks to see who the woman is smiling at and when she finds out, she doesn't like that the white woman was smiling at a colored man.    The offended woman leaves the post office.  The post woman now says she will serve someone at the whites only window.  The waiter comes over to the whites only line.

Amina tells Omar's sister that she loves the freedom in South Africa.  The sister says things are much worse in South Africa than India.  Amina says she opposes the system in her own way.  The twin sister says she fought the system so hard that she had to leave South Africa with bruises on her face. 

Omar is looking for someone to build a garden in his backyard.  Amina says she can do it.  One senses some electricity going between Amina and Miriam. 

The next day Amina arrives for work at 7 a.m.  The kids catch the school bus.  Amina and Miriam exchanges glances. She gets more dressed up and cooks some good food for Amina.  She takes the food out to Amina and Amina invites her to share the food with Miriam.  She says she would like to get to know Miriam better.  Miriam says that Amina was the first person in eight days to smile at her at the Location Cafe.  She goes back into the store. 

Amina works until dark.  She comes in and gives Miriam a book of poetry.  Now Miriam demands that she stay for dinner.  She says she can't drive home in the dark.  The roads in the country are just tracks.  Miriam puts the kids to sleep.  At night neither woman can sleep, so they have tea together.  Miriam says she has been in South Africa for seven years now.  She remembers when she first came that there was a big demonstration put on by the Indian Congress protest.  Amina says she was in that very protest.  And yes there was a lot of violence unleashed on the part of the police toward the demonstrators. 

Amina says that her mother was raped at the early age of 19.  (The attacker might have been black.)   She tried to hide the fact that she was raped.  But when she became pregnant and then had her child, it was too dark to be her husband's child.  The men of the community beat her mother viciously.  She was put on a train to Durban to take a ship to Bombay.  Her husband too her to the train.  As the train started to pull out he asked his wife to let him kiss his own child goodbye once more.  So she puts the child in the window and the husband grabs the child.  Mother started crying and protesting, but it was too late. 

Sgt. Stuart and his comrade comes looking for Rehmat Winston.  They push Miriam around saying that they know she is with Miriam and her family.  The extra mean one tells Miriam that if she helps Rehmat, she will in big trouble.  The policeman asks if she knows about the Law of the Prohibition against Mixed Marriage Act of 1949?  The children get off the bus and the two policeman grab them both and throw them into the back of a paddy wagon.  The mean one tells Miriam that they will bring the children back later.  That is unless Miriam will tell them where Rehmat is?  Miriam says they are in Cape Town with her brother-in-law.  He warms Miriam that if she has lied to him he will come back and beat her children and the baby too.  But then he gives Miriam back her children.

There is a party going on at the Location Cafe.   Rehmat comes in asking for help because the police are after her.  Amina says they can't help her.  Then she takes her into the back to the restaurant and puts her in a hidden room. 

The police go to speak with Farah.  She tells them to go try Amina.  She probably knows.

The police come to Amina looking for Rehmat, but they can't find her at the Location Cafe. 

A white man hits a black man crossing the road and he complains that the man broke two of his headlights.  Miriam asks how about the black man and the white man says he hopes the fellow is dead.  Miriam goes out with a lantern to check on the man.  He has been hurt, but he tells her that he doesn't need her help.  He has to repeat this until she gives up on trying to help him. When she returns to the store, her husband asks where she was.  She says she thought she had left the washing out.  He sees blood on her white sweater and slaps her across the face.  He says:  "Your place is here with me, not with those kaffirs."

A white man in the post office bullies Jacob around.  Madeline intervenes to prevent real trouble.  The white man drops the money he own on the floor instead of in Madeline's hand.  Jacob starts picking up the coins.  The white guy pushes him a bit as he leaves the post office.  Now Madeline gives Jacob a package to give to Amina. 

Jacob hands the book to Amina.  She opens it.  It's Silas Marner by the female  writer George Eliot. Amina is very happy that Miriam sent he a book. 

Amina's mother suddenly dies a natural death.  Omar doesn't want to go to the funeral.  He says he doesn't owe that family anything.  Miriam reminds him that Amina Harjan save his sister.  She also mentions that it was Farah who betrayed Amina. 

So Omar and Miriam go to the wake.  Miriam immediately asks where's Amina.  She is told that Amina is in the next room and Miriam is asked to see if she can get Amina to come join the family.  Miriam goes into the next room and finds Amina reading Silas Marner.  Amina says the family is blaming the death of her mother on her because of her work and her always wearing pants.  Miriam tells Amina not to worry about what people say.  So Amina asks Miriam why did she get married.  Was it for love?  Miriam says no.  Omar saw her a couple of times and then he proposed marriage to the family and the family accepted.  She adds:  "It never occurred to me to question it."  Amina says she does question it.  Miriam asks Amina to change out of her traditional outfit into her normal clothes and come out to be with the family. 

On another day Amina tells Jacob that she wants to starts serving some real Indian food.  But who will be the cook?  She says she already has someone in mind.

Amina comes out to see Miriam again.  She asks Miriam to cook Indian food a few times a week for the cafe.  Miriam says she has to take care of the shop.  And then she has her children.  So Amina says she can work one morning a week to start.  And they will pay her well.  Miriam says her husband wouldn't like it, but Amina says she's not offering her husband a job, but Miriam.  The two women are standing very close to each other when Omar walks in.  The women stop talking and Miriam moves away from Amina.  Amina speaks up saying that she wants Miriam to work one day a work for her to cook Indian food.  Omar says his wife doesn't need to work.  When Amina objects, he shouts:  "No!"  Besides his wife doesn't know how to drive.  He has been trying to get her to learn how, but nothing has come of it.

Amina sees an opening and she volunteers a couple of hours, two times a week, to teach Miriam how to drive.  Miriam now says she is very interested.  Good.  That's settled. Amina says she will see Miriam next week and then leaves. 

Farah is all happy about seeing Omar again.  She takes a bubble bath.  When she hears the door open, she assumes it is Omar.  She pulls her robe down from her shoulders and goes out to see Omar.  She sees him with his back turned to him and she says he is early today.  Her husband turns around and is shocked by her appearance.  Farah quickly puts her robe back onto her shoulders.  She asks why isn't he at the shop?  Because it's closed due to this being a Day of Action for the blacks.  Amina says:  "Bloody blacks" and returns to her room.  Her husband is still wondering about the strange way his wife was behaving.

Miriam comes out of the shop and looks around the grounds.  She thinks of Amina as she was changing out of her traditional Indian clothes and into her usual clothes.  She thinks of the glimpses she got of Amina's nice body.

Now Omar just walks into Farah's house as if her were the husband.  He calls out for Farah a couple of times, but then stops because he sees his brother Sadru looking at him strangely.  Father comes out and acts like the visit is a complete surprise.  How did Omar know that Sadru was back already?  Sadur is wondering if there is some kind of crisis happening, but Omar says no. 

Amina comes to start teaching Miriam how to drive.  Miriam gets in and they drive to a secluded place.  Amina immediately parks and starts talking about how to drive.  She also does a little flirting with Miriam. 

Omar is back home now because Sadru spoiled his plans.  He asks the young black assistant where is Madam?  She's gone off to learn how to drive.  Omar pushes the young man backwards and starts back to his car.

The two women kiss.  Then they lean their heads against each other's head.  And here comes Omar marching up to the car.  Miriam is afraid that her husband may have seen what they were doing.  He opens Miriam's door and tells her to get out of the pick-up truck.  Miriam gets out even though she said that she was not finished with the lesson.  Omar and Miriam walk away from the car.  She asks Omar why is he angry at the entire family, because she is the one who should be angry with him?  Omar tells her that he is finished with Farah. Miriam wants to know why he did it?  He says he doesn't know.  She says:  "You hurt me."  Her children get off the school bus and come running to their mother.  They go inside.

Jacob tells Amina that he has asked Madeline to have dinner with him.  Amina asks him:  "Do you know what you are doing?"  He replies that he thinks he knows.  Amina says that he could eat dinner with Madeline her in the cafe after hours.  Jacob says:  "I have lived my entire life in this place by their rules. I do not want to end my life alone because of that."  Amina says that lately she has been wondering if it's worth pursuing someone no matter how much one might love the person.  Jacob tells her that she was the one who taught him it was worth it, so she shouldn't change now. 

Amina drives out to see Miriam.  Miriam tells Robert to take care of the shop.  They walk into one of the bedrooms.  Miriam says she can't do this.  She's married.  And Amina is a woman.  Amina asks Miriam doesn't she care for her at all?  Yes, of course, says Miriam.  Miriam lays down on the bed.  Amina starts kissing Miriam and she responds.  But the baby starts crying.  Miriam sets straight up.  Amina says that they can move far away and she will look after Miriam and her three children.  Miriam responds:  "Amina.  Not for me."  She shakes her head and keeps Amina from hugging her tightly.  Amina cries and runs away.  Outside Amina kicks her pick-up truck. 

After hours, Jacob comes to the post office to see Madeline.  The mean policeman pops his head in to ask if everything is okay?  Then he steps into the room and asks who is that person with her?  It's Jacob.  The policeman says:  "The section you are standing in is for whites only."  Madeline says he's her driver and he was just helping her to lock up.  The policeman lets them go. 

Amina's father comes to speak with her.  He tells her that they haven't seen Amina for three weeks and her mother was getting very worried.  So he is checking in with his daughter.  He touches on the gossip that there is something going on between Amina and Miriam.  Amina says that people are just assuming something more than the friendship that she and Miriam have with each other. 

Jacob drives Madeline to her house.  Jacob is a bit shaken up by what almost happened.  She apologizes for what she had to do.  Madeline says she is afraid of that young policeman.  Jacob says it's alright.  She asks him to stay to have something to eat, but Jacob says he hopes she understands, but he just can't to that.  She offers to drive him home, but he says no.  She gives him a kiss on the cheek and then says goodbye to him. 

Dad asks Miriam if she is running away?   She says she is just trying to grab a little time by herself to think of what she is going to do. 

Miriam tells Omar tht she is going to continue to learn how to drive.  And she is going to work two days a week at the cafe.  Omar is furious.  He says:  "You will not be my wife and work."  He overturns a table in the shop.  She puts her hand on Omar's hand.  He tells her if he doesn't like it, that's reason enough for her not to do it.  Miriam stands up to him and says that isn't enough.  "It never has been."   He starts to strike her, but she says: "No.  You have to find a better way to speak to me."     

Amina hears a crash outside and goes to investigate.  Miriam drove over to the cafe and busted a potted plant. She tells Amina that she may need some more lessons.  Amina is thrilled.  Miriam says she wants to work two, if not more, mornings per week.  They shake hands on it and Amina has a huge smile on her face.  Jacob invites them in.  Miriam introduces herself to Jacob.  They go inside. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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