Tag Archives: female film-makers

The Unspoken Code of Honor

Red is for the dark of reality. White and blue make up the bright of dreams. Honor (2018), a short film about forced marriages, packs a punch in under six minutes. It is effective storytelling at its best. Skillfully juxtaposed shots from just four scenes convey the heart and depth of this unspoken issue. The film is currently doing local festival rounds and has won multiple awards in LA and New York.

Simmie Sangian, writer and producer of Honor, plays the lead role of Serena, a 17 year-old British-Indian (Sikh) girl. She is pushed into an arranged marriage and feels caught between her girlfriend and parents. Simmie delicately portrays the conflict of a girl who must choose love or honor. Will she fulfill her parents’ wishes, or stay true to herself?

“There is a culture of silence and I wanted to be the voice for the victims. Girls are too scared to talk, or be who they truly are. Everyone thinks forced marriage only happens to girls in places like India and Pakistan yet it happens in United Kingdom and United States,” says Simmie. “It is just not talked about as much since we imagine these to be safe places, where girls are free and get an education. But they are forced to drop out of school and married off. They feel ashamed; their family puts them on a high pedestal.”

Similar to some migrants and conservatives, Indian parents hold on to dated values at odds with locals in their adopted country. They create a closed world inside their homes, contradictory to the open world outside. “Parents are still stuck to old tradition. As people living in a first world country with equal opportunity, girls have as much freedom as the boys. We all can figure out who we are without any restrictions,” says Simmie. “We would have no forced marriages if girls had a choice or parents could meet in the middle.”

The actor skillfully captures her character’s bare anguish. Especially when the disheveled bride sheds her gold jewelry in front of the mirror. The shot is superbly captured, in its thought as well as execution. The symbolic red of the Indian wedding outfit, usually associated with happiness and hope, appears a shaded black against the dimly-lit background bringing out its gloomy side. The celebratory bright gold ornaments look dull and bear the heavy weight of tradition.

In stark contrast, we see shots of Serena’s romantic adoration for her girlfriend Alex captured with an even, soft touch. Simmie had a clear idea of how she wanted it portrayed. “The honeymoon with the husband had to be dark and scary… almost tacky. The girlfriend’s section had to be dreamy, with the flowers and white and blue.”

Alex is played by co-producer Morgan Aiken, who is also the co-director of Honor with Kankana Chakraborty. “I wanted the film to be short and impactful. The crew was amazing and I knew most of them. The guy who played my husband is my school friend,” says Simmie. “I didn’t want strangers because it was such a delicate subject. I wanted people who cared about the script. I trusted Morgan and Kankana.”  

The relationship aspect was woven in from her own experience. “LGBTI community has a bigger voice now but it is still uncomfortable to discuss it in Indian culture. I had a girlfriend and didn’t feel like I could tell my parents – what if they got mad or angry? They don’t have anything against them, my mum is a high school teacher but still…” she admits.

They are supportive of her career choice. She says, “Children are usually pushed to be a doctor or engineer in our community, I am grateful they didn’t. I wouldn’t be in Los Angeles without them.”

The film also shows the other hidden aspect of forced marriages: sexual assault. “It is rape, if you don’t want to be married. People overlook that, even parents. They are so keen on societal approval that they forget what’s going to happen behind closed doors,” says Simmie. “I hope my film affects those parents and makes them think twice.”

Honor is supported by Girls Not Brides, an NGO committed to ending child, early and forced marriages. All 50 states in the US allow marriage before 18, with parents’ consent, and 22 of them don’t stipulate a minimum age. Similarly, in UK, the minimum legal age is 18 to be married in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but an exception exists between ages 16 and 18 with parents’ consent. Forced marriages in England and Wales are criminalised.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.

A Female Director and “Shit One Carries”

“‘Indian woman directs first film at 50’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘Oklahoma woman gives birth to quintuplets at 40’, but Shit One Carries is my labor of love:” Shuchi Kothari.

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate a female film-maker and her directorial debut: Shit One Carries. Shuchi Kothari’s film is “about how an adult son must learn to let go of his own crap before he can clean his father’s shit.”

Shuchi Kothari is a Kiwi-Indian filmmaker and academic based in New Zealand. She has written and produced several award winning-films (FiraaqApron Strings, Coffee & Allah, Fleeting Beauty) that have screened at over 100 international festivals as diverse as Venice, Toronto, Telluride, Cannes and Busan. She’s currently working on an animated feature screenplay set in USA and Japan. Shit One Carries is Shuchi’s first foray into directing fiction.

“As writer/producer of many successful films (all directed by women), I’ve enjoyed authorship at both ends of the filmmaking process but I’ve never wanted to direct; until now when I finally asked myself the question – what choices would I make if I were to take my script to screen? My directorial debut Shit One Carries is an answer to that question. I wrote the script during a recent visit to India when my mother had a fall and was confined to bed. During this visit, I caught up with Mrinal Desai, exceptional cinematographer and friend. To my rather innocuous question “how was your morning?” he replied, “spent most of it trying to figure out who’s going to wipe my father’s ass.” That statement gave birth to this story.

My friends and I are now at that age when we frequently travel from our various locations to look after aging parents. Our homecomings may be motivated by genuine care, filial obligation, or a modicum of guilt but I’m not interested in interrogating motivations. Instead what interests me is the idea of awkward intimacies between adult children and their parents when caregiving roles are reversed. The struggle to “do the right thing,” manifests itself peculiarly in Indian parent-child relationships where cultural norms and social pressures expect that all children when grown up will return the gift of selfless caregiving.

Shuchi Kothari on the sets of Shit One Carries

I decided upon a quiet aesthetic that allows us to view this father-son’s prickly relationship from a distance: an observational, objective vantage point rather than inhabiting the point of view of the characters. I chose to shoot the film almost entirely in wide shots to reveal characters’ inter-relationships and their relationship to the house and its everyday rhythms. The house is an important character. In the 24 hours during which the story unfolds, the main characters remain reluctantly tethered to the house. Restricting them inside the structure, I was able to modulate their intimacy and distance through static shots that included doors, walls, other rooms and spaces in between. I decided on realism rather than the melodramatic mode that dominates mainstream Indian cinema. The dialogue in three languages also made casting challenging. Only the son and the attendant are professional actors. The rest of the cast consists of non-actors who, in real life, have the same vocation as their characters. Their performances add another layer of authenticity to the story.”

More on http://shitonecarries.strikingly.com/

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.