Pouran Darakhshandeh, credited with making the first Iranian film that talks openly of child abuse, says she does not make films for a jury

Every screening of Hush... Girls Don’t Scream by Pouran Darakhshandeh at the just-concluded Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes) ended with women walking up to her and hugging her warmly.

“Some of them cried, remembering the experiences they had undergone as children. The response was similar in my own country” says Pouran, who is credited with making the first ever film in Iran that openly talks of sexual abuse of girl children. “In fact, the response in every Asian country where I have shown the film has been intensely emotional.” A group of women activists, moved by the film, held a special screening and a discussion after the conclusion of BIFFes.

The making of the film was not easy though, with many wary of the possible negative response in a conservative society where talking about sexual abuse openly is not the done thing. “But I had to make the film to break the silence. It was a big shock for people when they first saw it, but they could relate to it.” Hush… was a box office hit in Iran when it was released last year, running for months on end in theatres.

“At the end of the day I can’t make a film for the jury of any international festival. I can only make it for the people and I am glad they watched it,” says Pouran, who has made over a dozen feature films and many documentaries for the four decades now.

Hush… (Hiss… Dokhtarha Faryad Nemizanand in Persian) opens with Shirin, the protagonist, turning up at her wedding with blood splattered on her flowing white gown. As she is held for murder and the trial begins, the film rewinds to her childhood of abuse that has left her scarred for life.

Combining aspects of a crime thriller and courtroom drama, the film manages to narrate a riveting story on what happens when society decides to push crimes like paedophilia under the thick carpet of “family honour.” While Shirin is the criminal in the eye of law, having killed a man, Hush… points a finger at the crimes committed by parents, education system and a conservative community against young girls. In the midst of much pacy drama, the film has some subtle touches – the empathy of women inmates towards Shirin, even as they don’t utter a word, for instance – that stay in one’s heart long after the film. Though the film appears a little too pat in places, there is no denying that it makes its point loud and clear. The film ends with Shirin opening her mouth wide to scream and cuts to a bunch of girls rushing out of school, shouting in merriment.

Though the film builds a strong case against the social constraints and inequities in the Iranian legal system that makes justice entirely elusive for Shirin, Pouran says that her film is not just about the law. “It is also about how the family, schools and our society at large have no time to talk to children, especially when they are trying to say something that threatens to rip through the carefully preserved façade of all being well.”

Pouran says that she, like many other Iran film makers, does not believe that explicit show of sex and violence are essential to make a strong point about cruelty in society. “I want to make films on simple themes that go deep, deep, deep to touch the heart and leave you thinking even after you get out of the dark hall.”