Writer and Director Aayushi A. Shah uses this personal essay to reflect on the writing process of her short film The Rest is Silence, and how the main character, Hannah, shaped Aayushi’s personal growth.
I wrote The Rest is Silence to explore the potency of the act of feeling. A portrait of grief that is as messy as it is meditative, my film tracks Hannah’s emotional journey from a woman who suppresses her feelings and runs from her traumatic past, to a woman who is able to feel. Reflecting on my experience writing the screenplay, I’ve come to believe that there exists a curious reciprocity between self-awareness and the written word that marks and ultimately shapes any writing that is personal.
Like every character I have ever written (and will write), Hannah is an accumulation of my scars and flaws; a reflection of the unseen parts of my deepest self. She rose out of darkness, out of loneliness, out of my subconscious, and the desire to be seen. I saw her as I saw myself: a victim of fate—and the earlier drafts reflected that, the lines between us so blurred that there was no separating myself from her.
I was blinded by the writer’s fatal flaw: self-doubt. After having spawned draft after bad draft, spending everyday digging deeper and deeper into her, I was lost in my labyrinthine mind when Hannah threw me an epiphany that positively un-mazed me: it’s all lies, everything you’ve written so far.
You see, Hannah was a yardstick for how I saw myself. Sharing my head as she had been for months, she saw more in me than I did at the time and rebelled against my treatment of her (us) on the page. She saw past my scars and flaws—and held up a mirror so that I could see, too.
In later drafts, Hannah has a certain strength that may not be so obvious for its quietness; a lava-like rebelliousness simmering dangerously behind the flash in her eyes; a bravery that evidences itself in her resilience, independence, and her disposition to feel too much. Her beauty lies in the mess that she is, a push-pull between self-loathing and self-love incessantly at work within her. She’s not a victim, she’s a fighter.
Just as I made her survive on the page, so she taught me to see myself without blinders. She became a friend—blurred lines and all. Perhaps that’s why it feels right to let her go now. Because I’ve outgrown her? Possibly. Or perhaps it came to me in a forgotten dream or it was the satisfaction of knowing that she would go on surviving even after her story ended on the page. Whatever the stimulus, I feel ready; ready to depopulate my mind of her and be alone again.
In the ensuing silence, safe within the four walls of my world, I will sit cross-legged on my chair at my writing desk and wait. Before long, the solitude will darken into loneliness, the shadows growing, sharpening, and densifying into the familiar blackness of the witching hour, when my demons will have at last caught up with me. Victorious and thirsting, they will ravage me—and I must let them, for I’ve learned that it’s here, amidst the chaos of memories resurfaced, people exhumed, and wounds reopened, where I’m called upon to fight back time and time again, that I’ll find and befriend someone (not wholly) new who has a story that will change me.
by Aayushi A. Shah
Aayushi A. Shah (she/her) is a South Asian writer/filmmaker based in New York City. Her award-winning screenplay, The Rest is Silence, having gained much success in national as well as international film festivals, is the foundation of multiple character-driven, fiercely personal stories featuring messy, meditative women that she’s currently developing—stories she hopes to also direct in the near future.