Film Reviews

Review: ‘A Suitable Girl’

Dipti in A Suitable Girl

A Suitable Girl
(India/USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra

February’s cup of Doc Soup serves a relevant story of female agency in A Suitable Girl. Directors Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra explore arranged marriages in India to convey how contemporary young women negotiate the process. The doc sees girls matched and tied to men they’ve never met while other women around the world grow up knowing they can fit marriage into their career paths when it suits them—if they even want to get married at all. A Suitable Girl is basic no frills filmmaking—it could easily dispense with the visuals and be a radio doc—but its worthy subject matter is well positioned to win over audiences attuned to women’s rights in the era of #TimesUp and #MeToo.

A Suitable Girl follows three young women as their parents plow full-throttle into arranging their marriages. Of the three eligible brides, Dipti is most excited about marriage. However, the film finds a sentimental story as she perilously straddles the line of becoming an old maid as prospective grooms and their parents dismiss her as a bit too old or a bit too heavy to be a perfect match. She tries everything from online matchmaking to attending trade shows where young women are paraded like cattle at auction. A Suitable Girl shows how cruel the process can be when one’s value is determined by appearance instead of inner worth and the ability to make human connections.

Amrita, the second subject, doesn’t have trouble landing a match and the film observes a wedding filled with excitement by the end of its first act. Her love for shopping and brunching with her BFFs then falls by the wayside as she spends her free time perfecting dishes under her mother-in-law’s watchful eye. She also has concerns for autonomy, since her husband lets her work with the family shop yet the overwhelming majority of their clients and peers see her only as the shopkeeper’s wife.

Ritu, finally, is a smart woman who loves books and numbers. She tells the filmmakers about discovering her passion for economics and explains that her father surprised her by encouraging her to pursue an MBA when her mother said she’d better focus on getting an MRS. degree. Now that she’s excelled in her studies and hopefully gotten career aspirations out of her system, Ritu’s mother wants her to settle down. The problem, however, is that Ritu loves her job and worries that her prospective husband might not let her keep it, particularly since she values intellect while her mom fixates on looks and income. Their search proves difficult, especially since Ritu’s intelligence, independence, and career-oriented résumé make her overqualified for a life of domestic subservience.

Ritu’s story is easily the strongest thread of the three, but Khurana and Mundhra nevertheless find elements to compare and contrast between the characters. The doc also highlights the idiosyncrasies of India’s tradition of arranged marriages and presents contradictions, particularly within Ritu’s story, where young women constantly battle for agency.

A Suitable Girl isn’t exactly The World Before Her, Nisha Pahuja’s interrogation of culture wars in India that provocatively used the rights, appearances, roles, dreams, and futures of young women to show a culture at odds with itself. Nor does it spring from the screen with the same boldness of vision and eye for composition, although one must appreciate the effort. This modest doc offers three stories intercut into a collective plight. The film gives voice to countless young women in a society that still struggles to portray them as equal to men, and, thankfully, it does so through perspectives outside of a Western point of view. A Suitable Girl should engage audiences eager to see more representation for women both on the screen and behind the camera.

A Suitable Girl screens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Feb. 6 and 7 as part of the Doc Soup series and is available to stream through Kanopy