“Forbidden” is a dramatic thriller that follows a Sikh woman named Jasleen, who is forced to marry within her community, but runs away with her Muslim lover Fahwaz. Together, they must escape from her overzealous parents, or suffer a brutal honor killing.
“Forbidden” is inspired by the true story of my friend Harpreet, who was brutally murdered for being in love with someone her family did not approve. This work is my tribute to this amazing woman who had the courage and the conviction to follow her heart and stand up to her family. It is also dedicated to the thousands of women who have lost their lives in the name of family honor.
According to the United Nations, 5,000 women and girls are killed each year in the name of family honor. Women’s advocacy groups, however, report the numbers are much higher as many of the cases go unreported. According to their findings, 20,000 women and girls are killed every year due to this brutal practice.
Reports submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights show that honor killings have occurred in at least 26 countries. Of the 26, nine are western countries with large immigrant communities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
The mission of this film is to end violence against women living outside of their native countries. The film also seeks to mobilize a critical mass of individuals that will petition the legal system to take action against criminals who commit heinous crimes against women in the name of family honor.
To date, “Forbidden” has raised 50 percent of the total production budget. Now we need your help in raising the remaining funds for the production and post-production costs of this short film.
Our goal for this campaign is $18,000. Your tax deductible donation will not only help us complete “Forbidden,” but also build momentum in the ongoing campaign to raise awareness on this important women’s rights issue!
Vibha Gulati is an Independent Filmmaker with extensive experience as a writer, assistant director, and a script supervisor in the Indian motion picture industry. Her educational background in film-making includes a degree in Film Direction from the New York Film Academy, a degree in screenwriting from NYU, and a degree in script supervision from UCLA. Some significant feature films she has worked on over the last few years include Raj Kumar Hirani’s ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai,’ Bedoprata Pain’s ‘Chittagong,’ Rohan Sippy’s ‘Nautanki Saala,’ Danis Tanovic’s ‘Tigers,’ and Prashant Nair’s ‘Umrika.’ Moreover, Vibha has written and directed a number of short films and is completing a work in progress Documentary titled ‘Dancing with the Inner Eye.’
Often referred to as hijras and kinnars, transgender men and women are a part of society just like any other individual, regardless of how different their lives may be. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta and actress Sirat Taneja have created a documentary to bring to life a story about dual identities and the hardships that the LGBTQIA2S+ community members continue to face, despite the support they have found around them. Mehta and Taneja take the baton and continue the fight for equality in “I Am Sirat,” a documentary, presented at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), on Taneja herself.
“I Am Sirat,” set in Delhi, India, is shot completely on a smartphone. Talking more about filming the documentary on a cellphone — a conscious choice made by the ace director — Mehta confidently says:
It wasn’t a creative decision. It was the only decision we had [to] make the film the way we wanted to, which was very intimate and with nobody else around us. When Sirat was telling her story, she was free to tell it without a crew. That’s the way we wanted it. There were no cameras, no sound, no lighting. It was her life, she was in control of it.
The story highlights the deep intricacies of Taneja’s dual identity. At home, her mother cannot accept the idea of a trans daughter and requires her to be a man, even though she’s made many attempts to tell her family that she does not identify as a male. With her efforts to express her true, authentic self, falling on deaf ears, Taneja sets out to live a life that appeases both her family at home and herself. She goes as far as being her mother’s son in the house while renting out a room for her beautiful clothes and makeup elsewhere in the city; this room is the keepsake of who she really is, the woman she always longed to be.
At one instance she is even physically assaulted for expressing her true gender identity. While the film does not depict the assault, it showcases the traumatic aftermath of it. But the violence doesn’t discourage Taneja from living out her truth. If she’s oppressed at home, she leaves that baggage at the door on her way out — in public, she’s a woman.
The documentary allows viewers to see how Taneja carries this dual identity and how it impacts her as a person. We see her lose many things she considers important in her life, including her job with the Government of India and the love of her life, all because of her trans identity. The myriad of hardships that she faces can be seen throughout the film with struggles not limited to personal and social, but also financial and psychological.
Taneja lives in a single-parent household with her siblings. As the eldest child in a low-income household, she is required to take on her late father’s responsibilities as the breadwinner of the family. In addition to financial issues, the lack of a father figure in her life creates more obstacles for Taneja, including those around sex reassignment surgery. Enter, the idea of following tradition.
It would be remiss to not mention that “I Am Sirat” grazes over the idea of how paradoxical modern-day India really is. On one hand, there are talks about progression, making space, and living your most authentic life; on the other, people like Taneja are asked to put up facades in the name of tradition. Tradition, conservative ideals, and possibly even patriarchy are at the forefront of the oppression that Taneja and her counterparts face. So, even for a country that’s made some notable changes to its governing policies, many of its outdated conventions still trump the law.
“I Am Sirat” really makes the viewers reflect on how far the world has come in offering support and camaraderie to the LGBTQIA2S+ community on a broader level — mainstream media has made important strides to bring equity and inclusivity to the forefront — while hardly ever paying heed to the struggles these minorities face day-to-day with their loved ones. There’s an element of duality even for them in their fight to be recognized; they want acceptance from the public as well as their families. A story like Taneja’s puts into perspective how transgender men and women will never choose the easy way out; they’re determined to be an honorable part of society regardless of what it will cost. A heartbreaking truth, to say the least.
“I Am Sirat” brings about an important message for its global audience: never forget to celebrate who you really are, undeterred by the trials you’re put through. And Sirat Taneja is a living example of this simple life lesson, who danced her way from the TIFF red carpet right into our hearts with her soulful story.
It is the strength of both British and South Asian cinema that every few years, and with increasing regularity, a film comes along that is able to successfully and thoughtfully bridge the highs and lows of both cultures. With the recognisable cross-cultural DNA of films like “Bend it Like Beckham”, “Bride and Prejudice”and others before it, Shekhar Kapur brings to the silver screen an honest and comedic representation of East meets West with “What’s Love Got To Do With It” — an exploration of love and marriage across international norms.
Written and produced by Jemima Khan, the film draws from elements of her own experience of marrying then-Pakistani cricket star and now ex-Prime Minister, Imran Khan, and relocating to the country for 10 years.
“Particularly in the West, Pakistanis would quite often be seen as terrorists, fanatics and backwards,” says Khan, as she reminisces about her time spent in Pakistan over Zoom. “My experience of living in Pakistan was very colourful, vibrant, and fun. I always felt like the rom-com side of Pakistan was more surprising than anything else.”
A film not just about the heart, but with a lot of heart of its own, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” touches on South Asian families, culture, individuality, and marriages in the 21st century. Set in the UK and Pakistan, this is a feel-good and fun story about childhood best friends and neighbours, Zoe and Kazim, AKA Kaz. And as the narrative unfolds, new light is shone on their friendship and questions are asked about the cultural norms and practices we have grown to accept.
It isn’t your usual ‘boy-meets-girl’ tale. On the contrary, they’ve known each other forever; the fabric of their lives intertwined. Kaz is a British-Pakistani doctor of “marriageable” age, opting for an “assisted” marriage set in motion by his own desire rather than parental duress.
“I think we’ve replaced the term “arranged” with “assisted” because South Asian parents now trust their kids more to make the right decision for themselves,” said Shahzad Latif, sitting next to Lily James, who nods in agreement. “It’s still a process. Some parents may have more confidence in their kids than others, but we’re getting there.”
Zoe – played by Lily James – is a professional documentary maker living on an inexplicably fancy houseboat (bit of a stretch for somebody having difficulty funding projects, but, at this point, a crucial ingredient for London rom-coms). As a white British woman, her method of finding love isn’t one that involves parents or family.
“It was a no-brainer for me to be part of the script,” says a smiling James in response to whether any culture shocks were encountered during filming and table reads. “Pakistani culture is so rich and colourful, and it was important for me to showcase this side of the country. So no, no culture shocks per se, just more singing and dancing in comparison to British culture!”
Zoe’s camera is the vehicle through which the film examines Kaz’s “contractual love”, as she trawls dating apps while following her best friend down the assisted aisle.
Emma Thompson’s Cath plays the comedic matriarch to Zoe, eager to witness the conclusion of her daughter’s swiping days by being with someone suitable. She’s found a family in Shabana Azmi’s Aisha Khan – a more layered mum — one that is embracing both tradition and modernity. It would be fair to say that Azmi successfully sells cinema-goers on the difficulty of that struggle.
“Today’s society is slowly coming to terms with providing children the space they rightfully require and deserve to make decisions,” says Azmi, reflecting on how scripts and films have evolved over time. “Gone are the days when parents would blackmail their children into marrying the first person they come across. Just because they are their kids doesn’t mean they are actually children. They are adults with views and minds of their own.”
Kaz is then introduced to Maimoona (Sajal Aly); a shy introvert from Pakistan, unsure about the idea of moving permanently to London. She’s dealing with internal battles of her own; battles between personal desires and societal expectations.
“Maimoona may not have verbally said much, but her face said everything,” explains Aly, looking beautiful and radiant as ever. “She is torn between what she wants and what society silently shoves down at her and eventually, she goes with what the latter expects.”
The film navigates between London and a fabricated Lahore filmed in the suburbs of the British capital; a feat that comes as testament to the film’s production design. Kaz and Zoe’s jaunts across Lahore, backdropped by its magnificent architecture, set the stage for Pakistani music legends to shine, including the mesmerising voice of Rahet Fateh Ali Khan.
And if this wasn’t enough, Nitin Sawhney and Naughty Boy add further melody to the film’s music, as they talk about their experience of creating appropriate tunes such as the foot-thumping “Mahi Sona”.
“It was a great process and experience to create an appropriate language and expression of music which added elements and flavours to the film,” says the duo enthusiastically. “It’s also an ode to our South Asian heritage.”
Even though the tone of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is distinctly feel-good, the film thoughtfully explores the unconventional ways that relationships may be built, and what multiculturalism can teach one another. Is it, in fact, more sensible to be practical about relationships? Is it possible to learn to love the person we’re with? Is love really the only ingredient needed for a successful marriage? Why was Kaz’s sister shunned for marrying outside of their culture? And do Western relationships draw more on the ideas of assisted partnerships than we realise?
A clever reference is drawn from the moment Prince Charles shattered many royal dreamers’ hearts with his dismissive “whatever in love means” comment upon his engagement to Princess Diana, thus proving that these notions may be closer to home in the West than one might believe.
James and Latif are a charismatic pair, with Zoe married to her independence and Kaz gently questioning her prejudices. The film is also a vivid demonstration of British talent, with Asim Chaudhry playing a hilarious yet questionable rishta uncle, comic duo Ben Ashenden and Alex Owen appearing as a pair of TV commissioners with a briefcase of ridiculous ideas, and Nikkita Chadha as the confrontational Baby — the film’s feisty rebel, in love with dancing.
“It’s incredible to be part of such a diverse and stellar cast,” smiles Chadha animatedly, while sipping on tea at Soho House in London. “My character is defiant and nonconformist — perfectly conflicting with the name “Baby “. I’m really excited for everyone to watch the film.”
Divorce is still stigmatised in South Asia — a theme often carefully avoided in desi films and television. Khan gently addresses it as a twist in the film – with a reminder that be it love or assisted marriage — amicable and mutual separations are a possibility.
As a complete package, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” deftly wraps up all the emotions associated with love and family in its joyful, musical, and vibrant 109-minute runtime. With its cast, music and direction, this classic rom-com is set to make you laugh, cry and, even more importantly, make you think about the multi-dimensional nature of love within and across cultures. The film is now showing in cinemas worldwide, and we highly recommend it.
Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and chilli paneer. She recently released her first book called The Poor Londoner, which talks about comical expat experiences people face worldwide. With degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing, her work and research on gender inequality in the travel industry is taught in universities across the globe. Her travels and everyday fails can be found on Instagram (@thepoorlondoner) and YouTube (The Poor Londoner).
Originally from Karachi, Pakistan and now blended into the hustle-bustle of London, Marium is a trainee technology consultant, by day and sometime also night, and also finishing her bachelors in Digital Innovation. In the midst of striving to be someone, she enjoys dreaming about the impossible (impossible according to desi standards and sometime Harry Potter impossible as well), and writing about them. She enjoys baking, decorating things and a cup of chai!
RedBison Productions, a New Jersey-based production house, announced their upcoming film “Sach Is Life” at a press event hosted at Goa Restaurant in New York City. The film draws inspiration from an extraordinary true story about a mother and her 3-year-old boy suffering from multiple dystrophy.
This project entailed over two years of extensive research and has resulted in an original story centered around a family who relocated from Kashmir to the United States to save their son fighting a daily battle with death and uncertainty.
“Sach Is Life” stars 2023 Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh(recognized for his work in “Rocket Boys,” also known for his roles in “Made in Heaven” and “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway,”) and Kirti Kulhari(known for her roles in “Four More Shots,” “URI,” “Pink,” and “Criminal Justice,”) in lead roles. “Sach Is Life” is produced by Rahul Bhat & Romila Saraf Bhat and written and directed by Harsh Mahadeshwar.
“We proudly introduce ‘Sach Is Life,’ a film based on extraordinary true events,” affirms Romila Saraf Bhat and Rahul Bhat, both producers of Red Bison Productions in Princeton, New Jersey, and Harsh Mahadeshwar, a writer and director in Houston, Texas.
“This is more than just a film, it’s a tribute to the invincible human spirit and the infinite potential that resides within each one of us. We are thrilled to collaborate with immensely talented actors Kirti Kulhari and Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh to bring this heartwarming story to life.”
“I’m extremely excited to collaborate with a crew from the U.S. and to work in an environment that’s different from how it’s done in India. I’ll do my best to make it a film that we all are going to be proud of,” said Kirti Kulhari, who will play the role of the mother. “Sach Is Life” also marks Kirti’s international debut.
Calling “Sach Is Life” an “incredibly uplifting” story, actor Jim Sarbh said he’s proud to be a part of this film.
“I am excited to be a part of this extremely heartwarming and inspirational story of resilience, dedication, and belief. Nothing moves me quite like a story of a family coming together to help one of their own achieve their dreams.”
“Sach Is Life” begins filming around April 2024, and will be shot in Kashmir, New Delhi, New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York.
About Red Bison Productions:
Red Bison Productions is based in Princeton, New Jersey, US, and demonstrates a strong and enduring dedication to the South Asian diaspora. Their mission is to bring global true-life stories to worldwide audiences.