Many young women in India today have one foot on the side of traditional gender roles — daughter, wife, mother — with the other planted on the side of 21st century opportunities — education, career, financial independence — while the crevice between them getting wider by the minute. Figuring out on which side she will land — or, ideally, how to bring the two together — is what preoccupies women of this generation.
Despite the opportunities, once a woman reaches a certain age, the choices narrow to just one: find a husband, settle down. How do these young women navigate societal expectations of marriage with their own desires for agency, identity, and ambition? What impact do these seemingly conflicting paths have on their relationships with their families? And what does the institution of arranged marriage reveal or conceal about the real opportunities women actually have in a democratic India?
In September 2010, we arrived in Mumbai looking for answers to those questions. Over the next three years, our subjects Amrita, Dipti and Ritu — three young women who exemplify the modern Indian woman — allowed us to follow them on their journeys to matrimony. Their stories provide the narrative structure of the film, as well as an intimate entry into the world of arranged marriage. We hope the extraordinary access our subjects provide reveal a new complexity around the subject of arranged marriage.
We wanted to question the fairytale that is marriage, and to re-contextualize the pomp and circumstance of the Indian wedding as a painful rite of passage for brides who are literally shedding one identity for another, often losing a piece of themselves in the transition. As our subject Dipti so perfectly says, “I can’t say that it is fair or unfair, but girls have to take it like this only.”
This is an extremely intimate view of the everyday Indian woman and her relationship to her family and culture— something never before seen in documentary. It’s not a film about child brides, female infanticide or slum life, but rather the deep-rooted, systemic and nuanced sexism a woman faces from the day she is born. The film puts the narrative in the hands of the subjects themselves, as told to two women who can relate to their story at every step.
In screening the film for diverse groups of women, we’ve learned that the pressure to get married and the struggle to find balance between what we want for ourselves and what society expects from us is a universal theme. The story connects with people across many ages, races, socioeconomic classes and ethnic backgrounds. Through the extremely personal journeys of our characters, we are able to tap into something that nearly everyone who watches this film can identify with: deciding how to navigate the nuanced ways society moulds us into traditional roles, and the ways we resist, conform, and modify our lives accordingly.
Finally, a note about the process behind-the-scenes: In making a film about the intimate lives and dreams of young women, we wanted our creative team to reflect that. We’re incredibly proud to say that our core team, from the directors and producers to our editor, composer, cinematographers and graphics artist, is nearly 100% women of color. That is truly very rare in documentary filmmaking (indeed, filmmaking in general) and we have been honored to work with so many talented women on this journey.
Sarita Khurana & Smriti Mundhra