Bal Brach never wanted a big fat Indian wedding. So how did her documentary about Indian weddings, Little India Big Business, end up becoming her first feature project? “I wanted to look into why I had a reluctance to get married. I went down the rabbit hole looking into Indian weddings. The story really chooses you is what I’ve learned in the process.” In researching the topic, Bal discovered a huge industry in Surrey that caters to the extravagant multi-day weddings that cost families upwards of $100,000. “This is a glimpse into that world and how people are trying to find meaning in these lavish affairs.”
In addition to researching the booming industry, Bal wanted to uncover other people like her, who preferred the non-conventional options. During the three year process of making the documentary, Bal got engaged and married. It was a small (by Indian standards) destination wedding of 85 people in Jamaica. And not without its challenges. Bal described the stressful night before her wedding, when instead of being overcome with excitement, a Sikh priest they had flown in from Texas nearly reneged on his agreement to marry them. “I thought I had found this moderate, progressive priest. The night before the wedding, he said, ‘I don’t think I should be doing this wedding. It should be indoors. It should be done this way.’” A focus of the documentary is the pressure that Indian couples face to pursue the traditional route. Bal hopes the “doc gives people permission to have their own wedding and do it their own way and not bow to societal pressures, whether you’re Indian or not.”
In 2015, Bal pitched her project at the Banff World Media Festival, as the recipient of the Women in Film and Television Vancouver mentorship. When asked how the experience impacted her, Bal said it was huge: “As a journalist, I am used to working in a deadline driven environment; I usually file daily. Trying to work on a longer project and having no resources was difficult, until I heard about Women in Film and Television Vancouver. A friend [Christina Bulbrook] encouraged me to get in touch. There were workshops and there were ways to get this project in front of people that I normally wouldn’t have had access to. That was hugely beneficial, along with learning about the process of making television.” Other women within the community, like Christine Larsen, who was with Creative BC at the time, and Sheila Peacock, from CBC Independent Producers and who recommended Creative BC, were instrumental. It “all led to women helping women get it off the ground.”
Additionally, Bal felt less lonely throughout the process because of contacts she made at Banff. But access to a community was one thing missing overall. If provided with the opportunity to repeat the experience differently, she said, without much hesitation, she would love more help: “I ended up writing, directing, and producing this myself. I realized it’s a lot of hats to wear.” Part of the reluctance to seek assistance was due to the personal nature and passion surrounding the project. However, Bal is “learning to ask, because there are so many people who are willing to help.”
When asked about her upcoming work, there was a hint of reticence because the documentary still feels so fresh, and like a “pinch me” moment. Not to mention the exhaustion: “Someone asked if I’d do it again. I think if you ask me in a month or two I would be able to give an answer that would be more reflective of the truth, but right now I am overwhelmed. It’s been a long journey; I’m really proud of the project, but I need a break. Putting it all together and starting your own production company and doing this as an independent was the most challenging career move I’ve ever made. Sometimes when I thought it was too much and I couldn’t handle it, something kept pushing me. I don’t know where that energy came from, but whatever the next story is, I hope it gives me another six or seven weeks for a break first, because it is a long process to get this done.”
The finish line is in sight: after a popular social media campaign (the YouTube trailer has garnered over 14,000 views to date), Little India Big Business will air on CBC at 7 pm PST on Saturday in BC and Alberta, and will be available nationwide that same day. Bal attributes the success to interest from both Indians and non-Indians. “It started a conversation within the community. It has ignited a debate about whether or not these $100,000 weddings are too lavish or a waste of money. Outside of the community, it is shock and awe: ‘I’ve always wanted to go to an Indian wedding. I’ve always wondered how much they spend.’ If they watch this and they’re not Indian, they can understand a lot of it is rooted in family and love and that’s why people are willing to spend so much. They really want to celebrate; that’s the root of it.”
Little India Big Business will air on CBC at 7 pm PST on Saturday in BC and Alberta, and will be available nationwide that same day at cbc.ca/absolutelyvancouver/watch.
By Brianna Girdler