There are documentaries that leave you asking yourself, “Could I survive that?” While others make you question, “Would I be that fearless in the face of such obstacles?” Salma, screening in the Hot Docs program, Special Presentations, will leave you pondering both.
“All you have is time but no life,” says South Indian poet, Salma, in Kim Longinotto’s powerful documentary. At 13-years-old, at the onset of puberty, Salma was forced to leave school, locked away by her family (who were grooming her for marriage), and shut off from the outside world.
For girls in her village this was an unchallenged tradition. For Salma this practice was an injustice.
Salma’s thirst for the word was unquenchable. The resourceful and defiant young girl furtively continued her education by reading discarded newspapers from her mother’s groceries. Surviving years of isolation in a tiny dim room, steadfastly refusing to be married off, Salma reluctantly agreed to marriage after being told that her mother may die if she didn’t. Sadly, it was a trick. For the next two decades she would be locked away by her husband and his family.
The uneducated poet endured years of abuse and terror inflicted on her by her husband to stop her from writing. She wrote anyway. Desperately looking for places to write and hide her work, often uncovered and violently destroyed, Salma resorted to crafting poems in the filthy communal outhouse (burying the scraps of paper amidst her menstrual pads).
Poignantly, her mother would be instrumental in helping her smuggle the poems to magazines and eventually get them published under the pseudonym, Salma. “Why should she be stuck inside like an old lady,” says her mother with a proud grin. “I wanted to get her out.” It is one of many statements Salma’s mother makes in an offhanded manner. But, as you see throughout the film, her eyes reveal a lifetime of pain, and perhaps regret. Since being discovered Salma has embarked on an uphill battle to save other girls from the fate she suffered.
It is hard not to fall in love with Salma. It is impossible not to admire her. So many personal battles fought, and she won them all. Now it appears that healing and finding joy may be her greatest challenge.
Longinotto has made a career of exploring the lives of extraordinary women whose stories may have gone untold if not for her. And like those fearless women, Salma’s story must, and will, go down in the history books.
Read the Winehouse 2013 Hot Doc picks here.