'A Suitable Girl': Film Review | Tribeca 2017

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
A moving examination of the difficulties women face in Indian society.

Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra's documentary profiles three young women in India facing pressure to get married.

Profiling three young Indian women navigating the pitfalls of arranged marriages and matchmaking, A Suitable Girl revolves around the clash between old and modern methods of finding a husband. Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra’s cinema-verite style documentary, which recently received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, movingly chronicles its subjects’ emotional travails and the societal and family pressures they face.

The three women whom the filmmakers track over several years are Ritu, who studied abroad and has a successful career in Mumbai working for Ernst & Young; Amrita, who enjoys partaking of the many cultural and social activities that New Delhi has to offer; and Dipti, a schoolteacher who has been long obsessed with the idea of getting married. That process, as the film makes clear, is not an easy one.

Although enjoying far more opportunities and options than their forebears had, the three women still struggle in their matrimonial pursuits, each one adopting a different tack. Dipti attends a swayamvar, a matchmaking event that makes cattle calls seem more personal, and pores through personal ads with generally frustrating results. “This boy is vegetarian. It won’t work out,” she complains about one possible suitor. Ritu, whose mother actually works as a professional matchmaker, approaches the task with a businesslike perspective. Amrita, on the other hand, accepts an arranged marriage with a man who wants her to move to his small, rural hometown hundreds of miles away from Delhi.

The film, whose title may be intended as a reference to Vikram Seth’s best-selling novel A Suitable Boy, generally refrains from hammering home its points, conveying the women’s frustrations more through their body language and facial expressions than explicit commentary. That doesn’t mean it’s always subtle, however, as indicated by the plaintive music accompanying the wedding scenes. That the film succeeds to the extent that it does is largely due to the engaging personalities of its subjects and their families, who clearly trusted the filmmakers enough to give them access to their most intimate moments. Their faith is rewarded by this deeply sympathetic and empathetic depiction of a struggle for a happy match that, judging by the women’s trepidation over leaving their family homes and having to adopt a more subservient role, provides as much heartbreak as joy.  

Production company: The Film Collaborative
Directors: Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra
Producers: Jennifer Tiexiera, Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra
Executive producers: Caleb Amir, Kenneth Castelino
Directors of photography: Andre de Alencar Lyon, Naiti Gamez
Editor: Jennifer Tiexera
Composer: Gingger Shankar

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Documentary Competition)

90 minutes

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