According to “A Suitable Girl,” marriage is a time of great loss for women and their parents and siblings in India. A stark look at the country’s ongoing clash between modernity and tradition when it comes to female independence (or lack thereof), Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra’s heartbreaking documentary focuses on three single ladies struggling to cope with the pervasive pressure to find a spouse.
I’m sure if you have a Netflix account, you would’ve come across a ‘trending’ series called “Indian Matchmaking”. The show follows the lives of Indian individuals trying to get married through a matchmaker based in Mumbai, Sima Taparia. Indian Matchmaking is regressive in terms of a lot of aspects, be it the blatant colourism, casteism or the misogynistic views of Sima herself, but at the same time, many have found it undeniably binge-watchable.
For me, after finishing the show, a sort of guilt manifested in my head. The fact that I had enjoyed the humour and looked past the controversial aspects of Indian Matchmaking was something that kept bothering me. It was only some time after watching the Indian Matchmaking that I discovered this was not Sima’s first stint with acting. ‘A Suitable Girl’ was released in 2017 and was received widely in a number of film festivals. This documentary looked at matchmaking too, but this time without the comedy and with its focus on three women struggling to cope with the pervasive pressure to find a husband. Interestingly, the executive producer and creator of Indian Matchmaking and the co-director of A Suitable Girl is the same person – Smriti Mundhra.
The film that was shot over three years, shows a 30-year-old Dipti in New Delhi who spends her days and nights searching for a husband with the aid of her doting parents, to little avail, a situation that one dating-service employee blames on her weight, which causes her great dismay. While Dipti cries for a spouse, 25-year-old Ritu from Mumbai is more concerned with her career at Ernst & Young than a wedding, which disturbs her “marriage consultant” mother, Seema. As for Amrita, her carefree life of partying and dancing in Delhi is coming to a sudden end due to her impending nuptials to a man who promises to allow her to continue working, once they relocate 400 miles north, to his remote hometown.
For all three, marriage is expected from peers, parents and acquaintances — a social obligation to which they must conform, lest they be thought of as having “something wrong” with them. In ‘A Suitable Girl’ marriage is presented as a form of slavery, where a woman is forced to abandon her home to assume a deferential position in her husband’s residence. Directors Khurana and Mundhra editorialise their position not through narration or sound bites but through revealing closeups of each of their three subjects. In those images, especially at Ritu and Dipti’s weddings (which are set to a mournful piano), the sorrowful eyes of both the brides and their mothers speak volumes about the way in which, for so many Indian women, their preordained futures are ones of meek servitude.
“A Suitable Girl” proves to be a somber lament for a part of the world still clinging to its restrictive past, at great cost to its female population.
Khushi Raizada is a student pursuing English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College for Women.
Edited by: Varda Ahmad
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.