Love Arranged at the Gulf Film Festival
After her first prize win at last year's Gulf Film Festival (GFF), Dubai-based filmmaker Soniya Kirpalani (right) is back with another potential winner, Love Arranged.
A documentary on arranged marriage, the film looks at the retrospective trend of young Asians, many of them products of love marriages, who prefer matchmakers.
Kirpalani, whose film DoBuy: The Fabric of Faith won the top prize in the documentary category last year, will take her documentary to Mip Doc at Cannes, a showcase for documentary and factual programmes, and to Hot Docs Toronto, the Canadian International Documentary Festival. She spoke to tabloid! ahead of the second screening of her film tonight.
How did you pick the theme of Love Arranged?
As a mother whose daughter wants to have an arranged marriage despite being given the liberty of finding her own life partner, I was surprised to find that there were many like her.
My generation fought for freedom of choice, yet the fact that our daughters of marriageable age select this route took me by surprise.
It was then that I realised arranged marriages weren't like parents finding a boy and forcing their daughter to get married. Things had changed and I decided to follow both my friend's daughters in their search for a perfect mate.
How many cultures does the film encompass?
We had Indian Punjabis, Marwari and the BBCDs ("British-born confused desi") bred in Dubai.
Despite its light-hearted premise, you also tackle some serious issues in the film.
Yes, deeply rooted discriminations of culture, colour, caste, creed and community are subtly revealed when the girls meet their friends, families, matchmakers and even fairness experts, in their search.
Downloading grooms in sheer desperation from online wedding sites ends in disastrous meeting with perverts, and what should have been a beautiful journey for a young girl finding her life partner turns into a series of rejections fit for a case study. Examining this scenario stirs visible debate on why women give up on love to walk this predestined path of compromise.
What has the response to the film been so far?
So far we have had an extremely positive response ranging from "I totally understand" from a young Arab gentleman to an old Punjabi woman who said: "It's for us mothers who need to make this change, teach our sons better."
At a recent screening in Delhi, a young dentist told me she connected deeply with the people in the film and shared her fears. I have been humbled by the reactions.
Since your win last year, what other projects have you been working on?
A lot actually. There is We The People, a documentary on the 17 Indians who received the death penalty in Sharjah.
Their trial challenges and redefines human rights in the UAE and makes the Indian Government accountable for the first time, witnessing how the Sharia law helps the Indian migrants rise to effect change.
Then there is Crossfire Creativity, a clean-up fashion movement that focuses on raising salaries for factory workers in Sri Lanka. I
t looks at why the people who manufacture these garments are not allowed to wear them, why no Sri Lankan designer has their name on the garments they design and why despite Sri Lanka fuelling global high streets, its consumers remain dependent on mass-market rejects.
I am also working on Silken Synergy, a film about the servitude of sweatshop economies led by Bibi Russell, an Asian supermodel and UN Ambassador. Braving fashion conspiracies and hostile crossfire, challenging weak government policies, we follow her journey as she rescues close to 100,000 weavers and craftspeople.
Finally, there is The Veiled Threat, which explores the myths and realities behind the Muslim garb and a hush hush Hollywood-Bollywood project.
What did the GFF win mean to you? And how has it helped you?
It marked me out. You can win the Oscar but if you aren't relevant in your own country — you are nobody. DoBuy was launched in Dubai and had a home run. It even changed the way the national authorities looked at culture and design policy going from reel to real.
Is it difficult to get finances for your projects?
I bleed every day.
You seem most comfortable in the documentary format.
I have worked on reality shows for Sony and Zee TV and will do some more this year. I am also working on my first feature film. But my first love will remain documentaries with real people, real issues, real stories that affect real change. It doesn't get better than that.