Arranged marriages may be a commonplace concept in India, but two filmmakers have big plans for their documentary, which follows this practice.
A coy-looking woman sits on the sofa, while her family rallies around her, sipping tea loudly from cups. Across her sits a man, a prospective husband, in tow with his family. The two, in the presence of their relatives, are to decide whether or not they wish to spend the rest of their lives together.
It’s 2018, but scenarios like these are still pretty common in India. And while the West may balk at the idea of an arranged match, India still swears by it. And it is this very custom that filmmakers Smriti Mundhra and Sarita Khurana tried to deal with in their documentary A Suitable Girl.
“People in the West still have outdated views about Indian culture, especially when it comes to marriages. The system of arranged marriage is still viewed as a form of oppression,” sighs Smriti, explaining how the 90-minute documentary came about.
The duo’s labour of love has taken well over seven years, with 750 hours of footage being shot. Smriti and Sarita then spent three years of their lives, snipping out irrelevant bits for their project. And their efforts were lauded, as they won the best film award at the Tribeca film festival last year. Now, the team hopes to go bigger, looking to stream the movie on online platforms.
A Suitable Girl follows the journey of three girls — Dipti, Amrita, and Ritu — as they try to juggle between family, friends, career and the desire to live life on their own terms. “We interviewed both men and women— but settled on our subjects quickly.
These three woman not only had incredibly compelling stories, but they also were willing to take the leap of faith to give us the access we needed,” adds Smriti.
The makers chose to portray the point of view a woman’s perspective — how their entire lives change after marriage with new home, new family, in many ways and a new identity.
One of their subjects was Ritu, the daughter of Seema Taparia. Interestingly, Seema is a professional matchmaker herself, and has been in the business since 2005. “Being a matchmaker, I often see most arranged marriages turning into love marriages by the end of it,” she smiles.
Ask her about the scepticism that many hold against arranged marriages, and she points out that the popularity of matchmaking hasn’t waned even in the 21st century. “In arranged marriages, parents look into every detail of the family and then pass it on to their child. They look into the family values, culture, background of the family their child will marry into and so on,” says Seema, adding that it’s this very trust that the kids have in their parents that they pass on to her as a matchmaker.
And although the concept has evolved over time, Smriti explains that the West can’t wrap its head around the fact that it now somewhat resembles online dating and matchmaking. “The big difference here is that there’s a lot more involvement from parents and families. And the criteria for a good match is based on a different value system,” Smriti points out.
What’s been more enthralling for the makers was how independent and financially secure these girls are — a far cry from the preconceived stereotype of women who get into arranged marriages. “There was a real internal struggle for each when it came to falling back into traditional roles, or giving up their careers to get married. It is a story that is personal to us,” she beams.
Smiriti now hopes that her documentary presents this traditional matchmaking process in a new light. “When I tell people I made a film about young women who got hitched through the arranged marriage process, I'm usually met with looks of concern or pity. I tell them by the time they finish watching the film, they might wonder why they didn't have arranged marriages,” grins Smriti.