Love comes later

Documentary

Love comes later

Capturing emotions: Hushnara with her mom in a still from  the documentary.

“Pehli baar dekha tunein, mujhein tumse huin nafrat, phir bhi mohabbat hon gayi,” sings Shahanara, her eyes closed, head swinging from side to side. “It means, the first time that I saw you I hated you. Then I started to love you. I don’t know how that works out, but it works out,” she says, revealing her British accent. Dressed in a maroon salwar kameez, she’s on her way to the airport to meet the man she married six months ago in Bangladesh, a man she barely knows. “I think when you see that person every day so much, and he starts to care for you, starts feeding you, buying you lunch, dropping you to the station... I think little bits like that builds up to a relationship,” she continues, explaining what she thinks love could be.

Born and raised in London, Shahanara is a Bangladeshi immigrant infamous in her community for her ‘defiant’ ways and Western values. Of course her defiance came at a price. Her conservative father forbade her from seeing her mother. Marrying Mahmud, a village boy from Bangladesh, was only a way for her to be able to see her mother freely. This worked out conveniently since Mahmud wanted to move to London. But Shahanara was open to the idea of working things out with her new husband. “I want to give it a try, I want to see what he’s really like,” she says. After all, “there’s always a word called divorce.”

Every Good Marriage Begins with Tears, a documentary film by Simon Chambers, follows the lives of Shahanara and her younger sister Hushnara while they fumble around and get used to the idea of arranged marriage. Simon Chambers, who once ran a youth club for Bengali teenagers in London, was intrigued by how at a certain age, these youngsters were taken to Bangladesh by their families to be married off to strangers. “It was strange how they seemed to submit to this fate without struggle,” says Chambers.
Chambers, a close friend of Shahanara’s family, was particularly interested in the way these sisters, who had lived in London all along, tried to make sense of the different cultural influences on their lives. He elaborates, “On the one hand, the Western world is increasingly treating relationships like any other commodity. Relationships are almost disposable in the sense that you can change your partner for something more suitable at the slightest hint that things aren’t going well. On the other hand, these young people have their parents telling them that love grows between them and the person that their parents chose for them. There are these two very different attitudes to romantic love that I found interesting. I also think that most people in the West think that arranged marriage is a bad thing. We tend to confuse arranged marriage with forced marriage, lumping it all together.”

Apart from Shahanara’s married life, a brief and turbulent one at that, Chambers also follows around Hushnara — a devout Muslim — with his camera. From her first encounter with the man who eventually becomes her husband, to her life post-marriage. He even hops on a flight with her to Bangladesh for her wedding where in between tears, she confesses to being miserable at the thought of getting married.

Also an integral part of the film is Azirun, the eldest sibling. Persistently pushing her sisters to get married when they seem least prepared for it, she comes across as mildly villainous. Of course, she means no harm. Predictably, between the Rebel, the Obedient Daughter and the Evil Sister, there’s a lot of chaos. At the same time, Chambers challenges our tendencies to stereotype the siblings, by bending the brackets into which we are tempted to push them.

Shahanara marries Mahmud only to get back in touch with her mother. Hushnara screams furiously at her mother for pushing her into marriage, threatening to walk out. Azirun is shown crying when Hushnara faints during her wedding ceremony.

In fact, for Shahanara, who had been labelled as a ‘bad Muslim girl’ by her community, the film proved to be an uplifting experience. Shares Chambers, “After the first screening at a festival in the UK, Shahanara started to cry. And when I asked her what she was upset about, she said that she had no idea that people would find her so interesting. Several women came up and thanked her for being brave enough to tell her story.” Although the film seems to be largely targeted at a Western audience — with arranged marriages being no novel theme for most non-Western countries — it is fascinating to see the main characters in the film deal with the demands of their community, while trying to follow their heart.

While exploring a grim theme like arranged marriage, Simon Chambers has been clever in not using a tone too grim by including candid moments and funny conversations, making Every Marriage... seem almost like a curious home-video production, with not a dull moment in it.
Watch the film on NDTV 24x7’s ‘Documentary 24x7’ today at 1 pm.

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