Weddings are often thought of as celebrations of happy new lives and the unison of families. In the United States, weddings are glorified as such fantastic events and signify the choice of two people who found each and fell in love. So we often forget how different weddings — and marriage in general — are thousands of miles away from where we happen to live.
“A Suitable Girl,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week in New York City, beautifully captures this topic. The documentary — directed, produced, edited, and completely made by women of colour, an impressive feat in and of itself — follows three young Indian women in their pursuit of finding a man to marry, and how arranged marriages in the country are negotiated. Through their eyes, we see a close and personal examination of the complex journey Indian women face: They want to do right by their families by finding a good husband, but they don’t want to lose themselves (or relatives) in the process.
The cultures, backgrounds, and personalities of the subjects are completely different. Dipti is 30, and has been looking for a husband going on four years. Amrita sacrifices her social life, job, Western clothes, and family to move 400 miles away from the city for her husband. And Ritu is a career girl looking for a man who respects her intelligence, and will let her work.
While these women come from different backgrounds, one thing remains the same: the immense pressure to get married. Friends, parents, siblings — everyone you can imagine being in your life puts them under pressure, and feels the pressure themselves.
What separates “A Suitable Girl” from other documentaries is its perspective, which is completely nonjudgmental. It’s respectful of Indian culture, no matter how surprising it might be to viewers. During Amrita’s wedding, which we see early on in the film, we get up-close shots of her tearing up as she slowly realises what she’s given up. But she chose to give it up. What “A Suitable Girl” emphasises more than the sad nature of pressures on young women to get married in India is the process of getting married for the women and their families.
In the US and other Western countries, marriage means two families coming together. In India, marriage often means giving your daughter away. Dipti’s parents feel badly that they haven’t been able to help their daughter find someone to marry. And Dipti gets depressed because she feels like she’s disappointed her parents because she hasn’t found a husband yet.
Ritu’s mother, who is a matchmaker — and provides some comic relief in many of her matchmaking scenes — is trying to find a match for her daughter, but it’s harder than any other match she’s had to make in her career.
In Amrita, “A Suitable Girl” highlights the role these women take on when they become wives. They can lose their identities, and suddenly everything they have done, everything they have achieved, is gone. Because when you’re married, it is your duty to please your husband and his family. Amrita has to give up her Western clothes, which are not welcome in her husband’s family. She cannot work, save for domestic work around the house, which is 400 miles away from her family in Delhi.
Dipti’s father tells a potential husband that she doesn’t have any friends. That she teaches, but she comes straight home and doesn’t do anything else. The audience at Tribeca laughed at this part, despite how heartbreaking it is. In Western culture, telling a potential lover that you don’t have any friends is a major red flag. But in India, that’s a good thing.
“A Suitable Girl” tells these women’s stories so well that you will feel like you’re their friends who followed them on this journey, especially Dipti, who’s the most enjoyable (and heartbreaking) to watch. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will have a new, more informed perspective on a culture that isn’t so familiar
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