What comes to mind when you think of arranged marriages in India? Oppression? Abuse? Misogyny? Prepare to have all of your theories blown apart in the Oscar-worthy documentary A Suitable Girl, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra (two Indian women — yes, a story about women of color told by women of color), the doc follows three Indian women who are about to marry or who want to marry. Each of the stories is brilliantly woven together with grace, respect and the women's voices at the forefront. Regardless of your background, it's impossible to not be moved by A Suitable Girl.
Dipti is a 29-year-old going on 30 who desperately wants to marry. While she is full of joy and confidence, her fight for love is painful and eye-opening to watch. Although Dipti may have been socialized in this culture, it is her choice to have an arranged marriage. It is the moment she has been waiting for all her life and her narrative forces the audience to rethink the idea that arranged marriages are about oppression and abuse. She comes from a loving family who believes in her happiness. And, in many ways, Dipti's search for love (online dating, horoscopes and the pain of loneliness) is not that different from what American women (and men) experience daily.
Twenty-five-year-old Ritu is a different story. She has a job she loves at Ernst & Young and clearly doesn't want to marry. Her mother is a popular “marriage consultant" who is hell-bent on her daughter walking down the aisle. In one heartbreaking scene, her mother says, "You'll never amount to anything if you're so hung up on your job." When Ritu marries in a lavish wedding, the tears in her eyes are unforgettable. Her identity is vanishing. Ironically, even her husband admits he doesn't want to marry, but also says his family would not allow him to be single — and these are millennials. The contrast between Dipti and Ritu is astounding. As the film bounces between the two narratives, there is a message in every frame, strategically educating and infuriating the audience. This storytelling device is documentarian brilliance.
Amriti is already set to marry, giving up her passion of finance for her husband. She has to relocate 400 miles away from her family to be his wife. She appears to be a servant and only looks alive when she visits home to see her friends. Her dream is to work while she is married, which is a decision that will only come from her husband. Amriti's narrative, along with gorgeous cinematography, fleshes out an impactful story. A Suitable Girl is not telling you how to think; it offers stories that do not represent every Indian woman, letting the audience decide. The film will push your buttons and force you to rethink the concept of love.
My experience watching A Suitable Girl reminded me of how I felt when I watched Ava DuVernay and Michael Moore's first films. Let's hope this is a movie that will be supported with tenacity. With weekly conversations about films being whitewashed and people of color not being able to tell their stories on the big screen, A Suitable Girl is your answer. Support this film. If A Suitable Girl receives any love during awards season, remember, you read it here first.
(Photo: Naiti Gamez)