Hiding Divya follows an emotionally and financially barren woman, Linny (Pooja Kumar), as she returns to the home she swore she would never step foot in again. Home for Linny is a suffocating South Asian community somewhere in New Jersey with a strict code of conduct, a mentally unstable mother who sleeps in the driveway, and a daughter with a wrist-cutting habit. While Linny has built her life in opposition to the cultural mandates that cost her mother’s sanity, she has seamlessly inherited, and passed on to the next generation, their knack for dealing with emotions by not dealing with them.
There has always been a theatricality to female hysteria, and a kind of glamour. For those of us watching it, of course. From its “invention” and vulgarization in the 19th century by Jean-Martin Charcot to the spectacularization of women’s mental illness in general at the movies, we love our crazy women. They’ve shot Andy Warhol, they’ve tortured the crap out of Joan Crawford, they’ve slept with strangers and then forgot all about it, they’ve killed pet rabbits, and they’ve flown into a murderous rage over their neighbor’s failure to recycle.
But the mentally ill women in Hiding Divya offer none of the camp, and sadism, that oozed out of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? or Carmen Maura in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Neither do they move us like Jonathan Caouette’s mother in Tarnation or Julie Christie in Away from Her. As well-intentioned as this film is in its bringing mental illness out of the hiding place that helps cause it and reproduce it as a kind of toxic inheritance, it is very hard to stomach such a dreadful script and hackneyed characters. There’s no nuance to be found here: children lick lollipops and blow soap bubbles, scenes are stitched together with trite piano notes, and characters go from enraged to apologetic before you can jam a highlighter into your eye.
Hiding Divya is so consistently sterile and unabashedly TV-movie-like that when the one great moment in the film comes around, it awakens you like a defibrillator. At a funeral scene, a neighborhood lady confides to Linny that she had seen her daughter hanging out with a boy, and that she should make sure the girl remain a virgin for marriage. To which Linny replies, mockingly: “Don’t worry, I saran-wrap that shit.”