How does one tackle some of the most difficult issues when it comes to female oppression and inequality? Well for writer/director Jag Parmar, the answer was to put it on the big screen!
Her most recent work, a film called Dowry, delves into a tradition that is marred with the horrific reality so many South Asian women face when it comes to getting married. The women are a product for purchase or trade. But today voices are being heard around the world denouncing this practice and Parmar has taken those voices and given them volume with her film.
“When I learned that dowry is not only being practiced, but it’s going through expeditious growth while being against the law in India, I couldn’t let it go. I’m certain that today, most close their eyes to this, because it is a highly profitable business for a groom and his family. It’s entirely at the expense of women! For every 10 dowries, 3 women die, all over the world,” Parmar tells Fusia Magazine. “My curiosity about the dowry system led me the origins of the practice. It was hard for me to digest that this practice was intended to protect a daughter and what struck me further is that I couldn’t find anyone else (South Asian) in my age range that knew this. This is where the making of Dowry began.”
For years Parmar has been a voice for change. Every project has taught her something new and given her the confidence to share with her audience issues that are often difficult to discuss but critical in the conversation. “It’s my personal experience that South Asian women really do have to make it their mission, to not be silenced. I embraced being “the voice” after my first short film, where I spoke for an entire community, still living in secrecy, “ Parmar says. “Conversely, film is also a platform, where a filmmaker needs to be able to entertain their audience and I think I’ve really honed that skill of being able to gently challenge the audience through an entertaining film. I also think that the audience has become a lot more film-savvy. They’re seeking out good content! I’m in the film industry at a very opportune time where the audience seems to be appreciating my curiosity.”
This fall Dowry will be shown in Toronto and will also be available on itunes. But since its release elsewhere, including India, it has had an impact. Some film viewers leave the theatre in disbelief … either denying such practices are taking place, even in Canada/North America or treating the film as a fictitious scenario that is beyond belief. But Parmar’s extensive research in the making the film says otherwise. “I can proudly say that every screening has sparked a pretty intense dialogue. There is always a moment of disbelief; then, the dialogue seems to progress to an urgency for change and holding grooms accountable for participating in this social injustice. I especially appreciate it when the audience will start to suggest getting this film out there, as far and wide as possible. I must say, my first Q&A made my knees shake – it was super intense! It was also well-received in India, where this issue originates. The film won Best Film in the NRI Category at the Delhi International Film Festival, 2015.”
It is that response, that has inspired Parmar to speak out for South Asian women and female artists. Parmar is not afraid to tackle any issue as long as she is able to put the truth on the screen and that truth gets people thinking and wanting to instil change. The power is in dialogue … “I do aspire to be a role-model for other South Asian, female artists who may feel like they need to play it safe to succeed or are not being taken seriously as a female artist,” Parmar explains. “ I’d like to build such a brand where the audience knows that they’ll experience a story or an idea that is boldly told. They should expect to walk away thinking, if not questioning their society as they know it, but also, equally entertained.”
So what is next for this bold writer/director? Her next project will focus on an issue that is rarely, if ever discussed in the family home. It will be another family drama about the relationship between a Father and daughter. Interesting and intriguing the theme is forgiveness.