Review: ‘A Suitable Girl’ Takes A Look At Conflict Between Traditional And Contemporary Indian Values

The documentary, A Suitable Girl, follows the lives of three Indian women Ritu, Dipti, and Amrita who are faced with the conflict of their own identity vs. the identity that their culture has imposed on them. In the Indian culture a girl is born with the understanding that “she has to get married one day, leave her parents, and live with her in-laws.” Though, this is a tradition that has and continues to sustain Indian culture, with new contemporary values that have permeated every single culture, India’s is no exception, where simple access to things is even more at their disposal than generations before them, there meets in the middle this contention between the new and the old. Living a life strictly for themselves and career aspirations become silence as the pressures to find a husband become ever more audible. As we follow these three women we watch how they attempt to navigate these pressures and their own wishes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary. I love coming across something that teaches me more about something that I may be aware of but don’t necessarily have a lot of knowledge on. Many of us, in the Western world, grow up learning that marriage is built on the foundation of love. So, to hear of a place, like India, where the concept of marriage seems more like a business where it’s all about the union first and something like love can follow later, is hard for us to wrap our heads around – though, I do think that I should insert the fact that the Western world has done a good job of masking the fact that their concept marriage is rooted in it being a business as well. However, one of the things that I lived about this documentary is that it attempts to deconstruct that notion especially when it comes to the women’s say in all of it.

Though, the idea stems from something outside of themselves at the end of the day it’s a choice that these women still made that cannot come to fruition without their say so. I understand that this may not be case for everyone, but that’s why I think it’s important to hear different stories from different voices because not everyone’s experience is the same. Therefore, I cannot fault them because it is something that they and their culture believe in, much in the same way that we have certain things that we believe in and uphold even if it goes against who we are as individuals. I like that this documentary created kind of internal dialogue and self-checkin on my part.

Besides that I also had to do a kind of self-check on my part because underneath all of the stipulations, rules, and guidelines, that go into marriage within the Indian culture there exists a lot of similar, underlying themes between that culture and many others, ours included. I think one of the most pervasive themes as I have already touched on is the theme of identity.

There is a point in the documentary where one of the women becomes depressed because she has not been able to live up to the identity that her Indian culture says that she should have at the point in her life, that being a wife; she was in her late 20s and still single. As I’m watching this scene unfold I really felt for her, not because she was still single and not because I knew that a part of the reason as to why she was still single was rooted in male shallowness, but instead because societal and culture pressures brought her to a point where felt like her life was worthless because she wasn’t a man’s wife or because she hasn’t lived up to a certain standard.

I, as I know a lot of other people, have had those moments where it feels as though because we are not living up to some kind of standard we feel like failures, completely ignoring that we all are individuals with our own lives and timelines. Speaking more specifically, the pressure of marriage and settling down is a universal theme women (and men in their own way) face everywhere. This inadvertently reinforces the idea that our worth is tied up in our relationships with others instead of the inherent value that we have as unique individuals.

I believe that more than anything else this says a lot about the overall institution and system that governs our behaviors. Therefore, instead of condemning or coming down on the individual for being unsuccessful in holding up certain standards or for even trying to uphold those standards in the first place, I believe that this documentary instead attempts to bring to the forefront the question of why it is that we do it.

This documentary does a great job of shedding light on a common misconception from the most misunderstood and misrepresented religion that exists today. It is an incredibly eye opening story about what it means to fulfill a responsibility and not wanting to let down one’s parents and the faith that they put into their children. Though, coming out of it you may still have your own thoughts and judgements about marriage within the Indian culture, if you’re looking to expand your worldview and hear stories about the “other” lives, please give this documentary a watch.

You can find A Suitable Girl on Amazon and iTunes

Rating: 4 out of 5