"Unbroken Glass" Review- A Dinesh Sabu/Kartemquin Films Documentary

Filmmaker Dinesh Sabu, 26, lost his parents when he was 6. In an effort to understand their lives, and in particular, how the family dealt with his mother’s schizophrenia, he went on a journey into the past to create the biographical movie “Unbroken Glass”, 2016, with Kartemquin Films, Chicago. His efforts to make sense of and parse the facts of this heritage, including travelling to India as well as  to California, New Mexico, and Louisiana, often relying on photographic footage, are reflected in this portrait of a complex family’s problems.

Dinesh in train

Perhaps the key to the making of this film is Dinesh’s admission that as a child, he naturally felt that it must be his fault that his parents had died; later, he also feared that his mother’s schizophrenia would manifest itself in him, that it would be “in his blood”, that it would “be some type of retribution”. For what, wonders this reviewer? For surviving?

The story is a sad one, although the family members have not just survived: they appear to have thrived, to be fulfilled,  living educated in nice homes in the United States. Their father had a PHD from an American school when he became engaged to marry their mother. She had just been accepted into medical school in India, a lifelong dream. She was torn about her decision. The viewer realizes immediately that for this woman this was a defining life choice- marry the educated man or get educated oneself- there does not appear to have been a way for her to do both.  This was a culturally driven dilemma.

Dinesh, Sandeep, Rashmi at Seema's wedding

The couple quickly had 5 children, moved back and forth to America, and 6 months after the middle aged father- by all accounts a brilliant man- died, his wife committed suicide. The older girls raised the younger boys without the benefit of adult supervision.  Somewhat surprisingly, in later years, these now adult siblings only see each other a couple of times a year. The film appears to be their first real attempt to discuss the facts about their mother’s fears, delusions and the horrific double loss.

Susheela Sabu, Dinesh's mother

While the participants speak in matter-of-fact tones, they can’t and largely make no effort to disguise how difficult it was to grow up in this fashion. Perhaps the most poignant voice heard is Sabu’s deceased mother’s own sister, when she describes how she prayed and prayed that a sacrifice of her own self could or would result in saving her beloved sibling. So many years later, she still expresses her anguish.

The young couple-Susheela and Dwarka

Certainly, the film delineates how such a desperate variety of mental illness was anathema in Indian culture- but the fact is, it has always been and still is nowhere accepted, tolerated or understood. Recently shown at the Seattle South Asian Film Festival, the Dallas VideoFest and the Kartemquin Fall Festival here in Chicago, the film was made by a crew consisiting mostly of former Kartemquin interns. Starkly and yet tenderly shot, this is a candid and careful examination of this family’s apparently stoic sufferings and ultimate triumph over a tragic childhood. This is a moving and important film, highly recommended.

Susheela and Dwarka Sabu, Dinesh's parents

Kartemquin Films is a world renowned creator of documentaries, a collaborative center for socially engaged, socially charged and socially responsible media makers. For more information on Unbroken Glass, and the great films and educational opportunities available wiith this great Chicago studio, go to [email protected]


All photos courtesy of Kartemquin Films

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