Award-Winning Desi Directors Tackle Arranged Marriage Stigma in ‘A Suitable Girl’

By Sameer Rao Apr 28, 2017

Like many South Asian-American women, Smriti Mundhra and Sarita Khurana understand both familial pressure to marry and the outside judgment leveled toward arranged marriages, which are common throughout the Desi diaspora. The co-directors explore the topic in "A Suitable Girl," the documentary for which they won the "Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award" at New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival yesterday (April 27).

They explained to Colorlines that "A Suitable Girl" grew out of shared commiseration over family members telling them to get married. "Since we are filmmakers, we thought it was fertile ground to explore through film," Mundhra said. "And documentary [format] seemed like the right fit for the project because we wanted to explore this world of arranged marriage, not recreate it with our own predispositions and biases." 

The directors also wished to depict arranged marriages’ inherent sexism without confirming the bias of non-Desis who see the practice as something backwards or uncivilized. "Our goal was to dispense with people’s preconceived notions around arranged marriage and Indian cultural values without ignoring the inherent sexism within those institutions," Khurana said. "Many non-Desi audience members have told us that they had an idea that arranged marriage is forced marriage, or about child brides and extreme oppression, and then left the film debating if it was really that different than the way we choose mates in the West. Of course it’s different, but it’s not inferior, and if we can get that point across, I think we’ve done our job."

Mundhra and Khurana are the first Desi women to earn the New Documentary Director Award, which comes with $10,000 from award sponsor CNN Films. "It feels so significant, even beyond the personal accolades, when we consider how difficult it has been to get institutional support for a film like this, that presents a nuanced and complex view of another culture, rather than playing to a White audience’s sense of superiority," Mundhra said of the win. "To be rewarded for that gives us hope that these institutions are changing to include us and our voices."

Follow "A Suitable Girl’s" post-Tribeca path via its Facebook page.