A Suitable Girl


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Suitable Girl
"The camera is always up close and the effect is to make us acutely aware of the smallness and familiarity of homes, the closeness - both physical and metaphorical - of family."

It's not so long ago that women in the UK were expected to be married by the time they reached their mid twenties, viewed with suspicion if they weren't. Last year, for the first time, the majority of UK women were unmarried. In India, too, things are changing. As careers and education move to the fore in young women's lives, traditional arranged marriages are becoming less and less common - but for some, they still feel necessary, and others still long for that fairytale moment when the right man comes along. A Suitable Girl follows three young women looking at arranged marriage from different perspectives and trying to find the right paths in their lives.

Ritu doesn't want to marry - she's a rising star at Ernst & Young and would prefer to focus on that, which makes life awkward for her mother Seema, a marriage consultant. The solution, Seema believes, is finding a man who can satisfy her in terms of intellect and education, but it's a difficult match to make. Amrita, meanwhile, enjoys a busy social life in Delhi, where it's easy to avoid having much contact with traditional ways of living, and is uncomfortable about her impending marriage to a man from a remote village where her life will be heavily restricted, but she doesn't want to disappoint her mother. Then there's Dipti, who wants to marry and find happiness but keeps being rejected because of her weight. Her parents do their best to help but are clearly agonised by the fact that a child in whom they have invested all their love is seen by others as failing to make the grade.

Copy picture

There is a lot of suffering here, even though none of the young women is being forced to marry and each has sympathetic parents. Social pressures still make life as a single woman difficult, and many married women lose their independence altogether. Education is a double-edged sword, theoretically expanding options but perhaps making a life of dutiful servitude more painful. One of the prospective grooms is described as a simple man who just wants somebody who can make his dinner for him and do the cleaning. It's still widely assumed that wives will give up their jobs, do all the housework and produce children. These young women have grown up in a mixed cultural environment and know that there are other ways to live. To their credit, the men also seem to be waking up to this, but more slowly.

Up close and personal, focusing on conversations and emotions, this film lets the big picture unfold in the background. We visit a speed dating event, observe parents meeting suitors for the first time, take a fly on the wall position at family gatherings. The camera is always up close and the effect is to make us acutely aware of the smallness and familiarity of homes, the closeness - both physical and metaphorical - of family. Later we see roads, trains, areas of open sky as the married women prepare to leave all that behind, and the enormity of being abruptly separated from everything one has ever known becomes clear.

This is a film full of love, colour and warmth, and it takes a nuanced view of its subject, but the loneliness saturating some of the celebrations is palpable. What really makes it intriguing is its portrait of a culture in flux, and the weight it gives to the lingering importance of tradition in some of the women's lives, showing how the marriage process is already adapting both to shifts in attitude and to the impact of technologies like social media. As such, it's one of those documentaries destined to become more interesting as the years pass.

Reviewed on: 27 Mar 2018
Share this with others on...
A Suitable Girl packshot
Three young women go through the process of arranged marriage.

Director: Sarita Khurana, Smriti Mundhra

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US, India


Tribeca 2017

Search database: