The World Unseen

The World Unseen


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

One thing that’s not unseen in this world is the romantic period drama. In that regard, Shamim Sarif’s debut has little room in an already crowded genre. One thing that’s less seen is the romantic period drama that focuses on two Indian women living in an apartheid South Africa of the 1950s. In this regard, The World Unseen is in brave new territory and worth a watch.

Miriam (Lisa Ray) is all things traditional - a dutiful daughter to her family, a doting mother to her children, a conventionally clothed, demure and subservient wife to her husband Omar (Parvin Dabas). Amina (Sheetal Sheth) is all things radical – single, free-spirited, independent, she runs her own café bar business and wears masculine clothes. Their lives rarely cross.

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Miriam’s fenced life becomes even smaller and her struggles more focused when Omar moves the family to the remote South African countryside to set up a general store (surely not a great market opportunity?). Increasingly frightened of and isolated from her violent husband, she becomes drawn to Amina’s buoyant fortitude and charisma. The attraction is not only bewilderingly unexpected for Miriam, it is also confidently mutual for Amina and gradually their emotions for each other become harder to contain.

Everyone is living under the societal repression of the apartheid regime, aggressively enforced by villainous monotone policemen. When Amina’s bar becomes involved in pseudo-Resistance activities it starts a train of events that will force the two women to confront the challenges in their lives and relationships.

It is not a huge leap from the outwardly vicious apartheid oppression of the Fifties to the inherent prejudices of the 21st century and Sarif uses the set up to make her points clear. Within the framework the fledging gay relationship is sensitively handled and at times quite compelling, with as much nervous emotional restraint as any more mainstream romance. Both characters have so much to lose and gain. Presented with a new way of behaving and thinking Miriam in particular starts to question the controls under which she is living. By comparison, Sarif’s focus on and issue with traditional Indian family values is much more familiar, standard and specific and so is less dramatically intriguing. The universal notes of acceptance, forgiveness, respect and individuality ring out plainly enough, though.

Sarif works hard to get the best production values possible from the low budget. Some scenes and outfits look stagy and too clean to convince, but others, especially those outdoors, use period detail and the great natural scenery to imbue the film with attractive warmth.

There is definitely some sizzle between Ray and Sheth but despite their efforts, particularly Ray's, Miriam and Amina still come across very much as characters from a page instead of as people presented whole (Sarif’s screenplay is based on her own novel). They represent, rather than live in the film and the apparentness of this stops you from truly buying into the situations. That said, that’s often the case in romantic period dramas so Sarif is staying pretty true to the form. Downright cheesy it may be in places too, but credit is due to her cinematic prowess for turning the head of a resolutely mainstream genre to new conventions and directions.

Reviewed on: 20 Dec 2007
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Romantic drama amid the social constraints of Fifties South Africa.

Read more The World Unseen reviews:

Caro Ness ***

Director: Shamim Sarif

Writer: Shamim Sarif

Starring: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth, Parvin Dabas, Nandana Sen, Grethe Fox, David Dennis

Year: 2007

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: UK, South Africa


London 2007

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