Three generations of women in one family must deal with the isolation, fear, and heartache wrought by mental illness in Hiding Divya, the first feature film from director Rehana Mirza, who also wrote the screenplay.
As the film opens, we meet Linny (Pooja Kumar), a young single mother, and her teenage daughter Jia (Madelaine Massey). Linny and Jia are returning home to the suburbs of New Jersey for the funeral of Linny's "Uncle" John, her mother's partner and Linny's surrogate father. It's clear that Linny is uncomfortable about being home; she hasn't been back in a very long time and doesn't intend to stay any longer than necessary.
Linny and Jia take up temporary residence at the home of Linny's mother, Divya (Madhur Jaffrey). At first, things seem relatively normal behind the facade of Divya's well-kept suburban house, except for the palpable tension between Linny and her mother. As the day of John's funeral draws near, Divya begins to unravel, at first understandably — she is, after all, grieving — and then frighteningly, as she becomes delusional and then catatonic.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Divya suffers from bipolar disorder that has gone untreated. Abandoned as a young mother by her husband because of her illness, she was left to raise Linny on her own until she met John. Linny was bewildered by her mother's episodic illness, a situation that remained largely unexplained to her and unspoken; Uncle John became Linny's buffer against Divya's erratic behavior. As a teenager, Linny rebelled against her family situation and what she felt were the suffocatingly close confines (and judgments) of their Indian-American community; she became pregnant, and left home in disgrace.
As Divya's mental condition deteriorates, Linny struggles to contain the situation and arrange John's funeral. Meanwhile, Jia is forming a friendship, and perhaps a budding romance, with a young neighbor named Daniel (Kunal Sharma). Daniel discovers that Jia is hiding scars, literally and figuratively, of her own. As she has learned to do with Divya her whole life, Linny's way of dealing with Jia's problems is to deny their existence. Helping Linny to bridge the gap between her own isolation and her family and community is Ravi Das (Deep Katdare), a young doctor and family friend who once had unrequited feelings for Linny. The ramifications of this family's long history of denial provide the framework on which the remainder of the story hangs.