By Juwairiyyah Wali
Throughout my life I have encountered a plethora of arranged marriage examples and so for me and many others, the nuance and complexities of arranged marriage is self-evident through exposure and upbringing. Perceptions of arranged marriage in the West, however, can often begin in a place of uncomfortable intrigue, often being used as a discussion point for Westerners to further alienate non-Western populations. Thus, as people of the South Asian diaspora, we are constantly met with conflicting views and a resounding pressure to confront what the West perceives as "problematic" cultural practices on much more frequent and fervent terms than our White Western counterparts.
In A Suitable Girl, American directors Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra navigate this tricky terrain of societal critique steeped in the burden of representation by following the perspectives of three young Indian women. Amrita, Ritu and Dipti, offer us their perspective as they manoeuvre their way through their individual marriage journey. I am sure Western viewers will use the oppressive patriarchal systems that are clearly in place as a focal point. I instead believe that directors Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra elevate beyond the one dimensional 'oppressed third world woman'. While A Suitable Girl captures the individual struggles of three Indian women, it also engages in postcolonial feminist theory by carefully balancing the portrayal of oppression with an agency these women exercise throughout their journey.
Amrita exercises her agency right from the beginning stating that despite her friends expressing their concern, she wants to marry. She has also expressed her desire to continue working, with plans of joining her husband's family business. Unfortunately, this does not pan out as expected and Amrita's skill base is confined to household duties. Yet, contrary to the beliefs which are forced upon women in arranged marriages, Amrita does not lose herself. Khurana and Mundhra make sure to show us this when she visits an old work friend and she quickly gets back into casual conversational economics.
Ritu is less convinced about the concept of marriage, and as a well-educated 25 year old is more concerned with the future of her career- which seems to go straight over the head of Ritu's matchmaking mother. Eventually, Ritu is wed to her husband Aditya, who himself speaks candidly about the pressures to marry, stating that if it were up to him, he would be married after 40. Granted, this response does not necessarily forecast the most romantic of relationships, yet it does seem to align with Ritu's own perception of marriage in some way.
Dipti on the other hand, overcomes an intense initial hardship as she and her family search for potential suitors. Aged 30, Dipti is told she is overweight and struggles through a depressive episode where her self-confidence is tested and yet, Dipti makes it clear she will not settle and is confident about what she wants. Dipti eventually secures a partner that is right for her and seems the happiest of the three women when she finally settles down with her 'life partner'.
It is clear that directors Khurana and Mundhra intentions are to unveil patriarchal systems that lie beneath arranged marriage tradition. Women are faced with unreasonable expectations - the pressure to marry, leave your family and put your career on the backburner. With the increasing negative depictions of arranged marriage in Western press, it can be tiresome to be faced with a constant stream of negativity. In their unbiased depiction, Khurana and Mundhra are able to explore the complexities and nuance of arranged marriage through a lens that provides these women with agency - a right that is consistently denied by Western filmmakers who attempt to explore non-Western traditions and culture. Instead, there is a candidness to the women in the film that compels me to protect this film from the restricting dimensions of White Western cinematic gaze at all costs.
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