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Hidden review: A theatremaker’s search for a soprano amid gender oppression in Iran

Streaming on MUBI, Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s documentary focuses on the urgent need to restore women’s rights, and how the arts can help to do that

3.5rating
  • Reema Gowalla

Last Updated: 04.19 PM, Apr 16, 2022

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Hidden review: A theatremaker’s search for a soprano amid gender oppression in Iran
A still from the film

STORY: A filmmaker and his daughter accompany a theatre director on her journey to a village to convince a talented young female singer to be part of her next play.

REVIEW: A gem of a short film, Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s 18-minute documentary, Hidden, lays bare the gender oppression that women in the Middle East face throughout their lives. How their ‘father’s permission’ and their ‘brother’s opinion’ regulate not just their daily whereabouts, but also their dreams and desires. Amid religious hostilities and the lack of human rights, women are subjected to challenges at every stage of their life.

Hidden is all facts and no fiction. A few shaky frames introduce you to theatremaker Shabnam Yousefi, who crosses the road to meet her friend Jafar in Mahabad, Iran. Once inside the car, she is surprised by his daughter Solmaz Panahi, who wants to ‘film their adventure’ of meeting an exceptionally talented singer on the outskirts of the city. Shabnam is coming up with a play that focuses on women empowerment in the Middle East, and she is hoping that this lesser-known female artist will do justice to the narrative with her voice. The theatre director is eager to bring women into the arts and narrate their stories through them. Although the singer seemed eager to be part of the project, Shabnam feared she might change her mind if the family did not allow her. So, she thought of getting Jafar involved at this point. There are references made to the making of his 2018 feature film 3 Faces, which too was shot under similar circumstances.

The drive to the village is what holds the crux of the narrative. This is when the theatremaker opens her heart to Jafar, telling him why she so deeply feels for women’s predicament. She finds instances like them not being allowed to have their meals sitting at the same table with the male members of the family or discouraged to even laugh openly very troubling. She feels that if their stories are not told now, these women will continue to perish in anonymity.

The film poignantly depicts the small yet impactful efforts made to encourage women empowerment amid atrocities. Hidden makes a more lasting impression because it sheds light on the courage and compassion of one woman in the arts who is trying to help another female artist, who doesn’t have the same social, educational and financial privileges.

VERDICT: Hidden is a heartbreakingly beautiful piece of cinematic art. Simple, yet fierce and mysterious, the short has the potential and reason to be made into a full-length feature film. It delicately represents the ‘forbidden’ life of a woman with a golden voice, but leaves a strong message that we can still help to bring about a positive change through the arts, if not anything else.

*Reema Gowalla is an arts and culture journalist, who mostly writes about theatre and independent cinema, and sometimes also delves into culinary heritage.

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