Tanuja Chandra interview: ‘I looked at Wedding.Con as women’s longing' | Web Series - Hindustan Times

Tanuja Chandra interview: ‘I looked at Wedding.Con as women’s longing and society pushing them into a corner'

ByDevansh Sharma
Jan 03, 2024 06:01 AM IST

Tanuja Chandra continues her lifelong quest of telling women's stories with Wedding.con, a Prime Video India docuseries about fraud on matrimonial websites.

Tanuja Chandra is no stranger to documentaries. She helmed the critically acclaimed 2019 documentary Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha, where she documented the lives of her 86 and 93-year-old aunts in a village. However, her new docuseries, Wedding.con, is polar opposite in tone, texture and format. It chronicles the rising threat of matrimonial website scams.

Tanuja Chandra has directed the docuseries Wedding.con(Waseem Gashroo/Hindustan Times)
Tanuja Chandra has directed the docuseries Wedding.con(Waseem Gashroo/Hindustan Times)

(Also Read: Wedding.con review: A chilling, revealing documentation of matrimonial fraud)

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Women's stories

Tanuja started her directorial career with Dushman, the 1998 psychological thriller starring Kajol. 25 years later, she's committed to telling women's stories, whether in cinema or on OTT, whether in fiction or in documentary. “Honestly, real women talking about their very real experiences will always be very different from someone researching and writing fiction,” said Tanuja, who made her long-format debut with the show Hush Hush last year.

Like that show, which also streamed on Prime Video India, Wedding.con also tells the stories of five women, with a common thread running through each. Tanuja explained that there were many more women who were duped of even larger sums via matrimonial fraud. “But they didn't want to come forward because of shame. Despite the fact that they're the victims, they feel like they did something wrong. Which is something that bothered me a lot," she said.

Out of the women who did come forward, the makers picked five because they represented various ages, backgrounds, and the ways in which they were duped. While a couple chose to reveal their faces in the docuseries, the others concealed their identities in the shadows. But Tanuja insisted she didn't discriminate between them. “They have their own reasons and their reasons are as important and as valid as anything else. But the ones who did choose to reveal their identity are very brave and should be applauded,” Tanuja said.

‘Not an iota of judgement’

When BBC Studios India reached out to Tanuja for the docuseries, she got the opportunity to amalgamate all her skill sets as a director – telling women's stories, documentary-making, and crafting a thriller. "The thing I'm chasing the most is to put women out there and make them speak without shame. But they had to narrate to us what happened blow by blow. The human parts of it intercut with the plot-heavy parts of it. That's very much also a fiction struggle – how do you touch the viewer's heart while making the plot move?”

Tanuja and her team had to combine the interviews, the screenlife aspects since most of the plot unfolded online, and spruce it up with recreated storylines. “It's not an observational documentary. Half of it is recreated. Interviews are inherently static. But the women knew that not an iota of me was judging them. So it was very heart-to-heart,” said Tanuja, who said approaching the subject without judgement was most crucial to her.

“The world is very quick to judge. Even though we all desire love in our lives and we'd want a beautiful partnership where we can share our thoughts, fears, and ambitions with somebody. It's one of the beautiful things in life, right? So we all have these longings. I, for not even one second, thought, ‘How could she do this.’ I never needed to wrap my head around it. It's such a human instinct to want this," said Tanuja.

Longing and loneliness aren't the only factors that make women fall prey to matrimonial fraud. Last year, Reema Kagti's Prime Video India show Dahaad depicted how women from varying backgrounds and ages are drawn towards a man who sweet-talks them into danger. Vijay Varma's character in the show conducted extensive research on every woman in order to gauge the emotional void he can fill in each of them so as to hold them captive.

Marriage portals or not, women have found it tough to fall in love nonetheless. “Honestly, the sad part is such little research or statistics is available on this. Because women don't come out and report. While it must have always been happening, my guess is that it's grown by leaps and bounds. Because the digital market gives the perpetrators a cover,” said Tanuja, underlining issues like online anonymity, lack of physical evidence, and jurisdiction limitations.

Society at fault

She explained how the perpetrators often target working women with high-paying jobs, but those with a small-town upbringing or widows/divorcees looking for companionship, “Society pushes that pressure of marriage really hard on younger women. After 30, they say you're too old. After 35, the ship has already sailed. After 40 or 50, a woman thinks here's a man who's educated, has a job, and is saying these nice things to me that I've longed for all my life."

Tanuja is a single woman herself who has never married. She admitted the question is posed to her quite often. “Are you married is the only question people are asked. Because that's assumed to be the completion of your life. I hate for young people to be constantly cautious and suspicious. Where's the fun in being weighed down by anxiety? We need to look at this docuseries through the lens that there's a cultural need that's being exploited by greedy and dishonest perpetrators."

She explained how the justice system is skewed against the victim, especially when she's a working woman. “When she seeks justice, she's already gone through the agony of calling herself foolish. Then comes the family who calls her foolish, then the police, and then the law. The onus of defending herself is entirely on the victim. No blame on the perpetrator!” Tanuja is thus not too surprised why women don't come out in large numbers to report matrimonial fraud.

“These perpetrators exploit what working women have fought for all this while. They'll come across as feminists who want their partners to work and earn as much. Women have been longing to have this equality. But this makes me personally very sad. Because a scam makes them doubt their independence. Firstly, you work hard to earn that freedom and as soon as you make a mistake, you know that the world is going to come down on you hard. If they think that them being working women is at fault, it just takes us back in time."

Speaking of time, the lack of policing and law to keep pace with our rapidly changing lives must also be held accountable. “The world is living digitally and we can't turn that back. When your life changes, the law and the police should also adapt to that. But we're always two steps behind,” said Tanuja, claiming that even marriage portals absolve themselves of any responsibility by merely issuing ‘guidelines’ instead of actually going through the grind of doing background checks.

Irony of marriage portals

“When BBC Studios came to me with this subject, I was shocked at the scale of the crime. I didn't know about it, despite considering myself pretty well-informed,” said Tanuja, agreeing that the rising numbers in matrimonial fraud are pushing young people to go back to the conventional paths of arranged marriage. For instance, a matchmaker, both a formal, reliable one like Seema Taparia from Netflix show Indian Matchmaking, and an informal one like a well-connected relative or family friend.

“It's ironic because freedom is exactly what digital portals provide: they give you the chance to explore beyond your community. Because a matchmaker would look only locally. Marriage portals are helping educated, working women to bypass the traditional arranged marriage system and avoid the whole meet-the-family-and-serve-chai situation. It's given a certain amount of freedom to women, but they don't know who they are speaking to,” said Tanuja.

The very platform that was meant to liberate the new generation has come back to bite it. She recalled how in her last directorial feature, Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017), Parvathy's character starts panicking when she realises that Irrfan Khan's character Yogi, who she's travelling with, doesn't have a social media account that would verify his credibility. But as it goes, after Wedding.con, a digital presence is also no guarantee for a safe space.

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