Director Vibha Gulati’s Journey From New York to Mumbai and the Controversial Directorial Debut of ‘Forbidden’

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By Vibha Gulati

Director Vibha Gulati

Everyday thousands of aspiring filmmakers, actors, and writers from around the globe leave behind their homes and their loved ones to migrate to the world’s most glamorous film industry- HOLLYWOOD.

But what if I told you I left my home in New York to make a life-altering journey to Mumbai to create epic romantic musicals like Yash Chopra?

I think everyone from my best friend to the mailman asked me what in god’s name possessed me to make this decision.  I mean why the heck would you travel halfway across the world to a third world nation, ok scratch that, let me be politically correct, “developing nation” instead of pursuing your dreams where you belong?!

But I was adamant. I grew up watching these colorful movies and I wanted to be apart of that world no matter what!

I saw my first Indian film, Mughal-e-Azam (Love Story of a Mughal Prince), at the age of six at the Angelika Theater in New York. The larger than life sets, the choreographed dances, and the music entranced me.

As I got older, I watched movies with a critical eye, deconstructing scenes by dialogue, visual compositions, use of music, and sound. Over the weekends, I would coerce my friends to act out scenes from my short stories and shoot them with my father’s video camera. Storytelling was apart of who I was and I knew my life would never be the same without it. So while obtaining a degree in IT (to please my parents of course), I took up a film and media internship in Mumbai where I had the honor and the privilege to work on the sets of Raju Hirani’s “Laage Raho Munna Bhai.” Shortly after this enlightening experience, I enrolled at the NY Film Academy and graduated with a degree in Film Direction. Upon graduation,  I took the first flight out to India to work on my second feature film as a full-fledged Assistant Director. It was truly a dream come true!

But I’m not going to lie.

My transition from New York to Mumbai was a tough one. In the beginning, many of my Indian colleagues resented me for entering “their territory.” I was referred to as the “firang” or the Westerner of the unit. They would crack jokes, talk behind my back, and rarely take direction from me when I was in charge.

As a woman in a male-dominated profession, my seniors were reluctant to give me responsibilities. They would say “Ladki hai, nahi sambhal payegi” (She’s a girl, she won’t be able to handle it). That was enough fire to fuel my soul and prove to these parochial minded people that hard work, determination, and the hunger to learn and grow was all I needed to prove them wrong!

Thus, whenever an opportunity presented itself, I would go above and beyond the call of duty. I would take on tasks others were reluctant to take on due to their sense of entitlement and macho egos. The same seniors who undermined and doubted my abilities began noticing my work. They began promoting me over my male colleagues. Soon, I made the transition from assistant director to script supervisor and took on work for the biggest production companies in Mumbai.

Currently, I am working towards a full-time career as a writer and director in the Indian film industry.  My directorial debut, Forbidden held its World Premiere on April 26th at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in Iowa, USA.  The film will hold its New York Premiere at the NY Indian Film Festival on May 11th and Canadian Premiere at the International Film Festival of South Asia-Toronto on May 13th.

So what inspired me to create Forbidden?

A few years ago, while working on a film in Punjab, I reconnected with a childhood friend who had made the move to India during her teenage years.  She was one of my closest friends growing up…always the life of the party with her nonstop hilarious jokes and an infectious giggle that would have me cracking up for hours on end! After a gap of 10+ years, we picked up exactly where we left off. It was as if time stood still.  Everything was going well until her family found out about her secret love life. Suddenly, I began to see and hear less of her.  Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. And then, tragedy struck and I lost my friend forever. How you ask? An accident…an illness? No. The answer? Cold blooded murder in the name of family honor.

When a friend or family member is murdered in an honor killing, the question of how to stand up to honor violence is not one to be taken lightly. While many may want to speak out, taking action often comes with tremendous risk. For me though, the choice was clear: speak out through film, in spite of the dangers doing so posed.

Starring Gulshan Grover, Salony Luthra, Gopal Divan, and Dhanish Kathik, Forbidden is a short dramatic thriller that follows a Sikh woman named Jasleen, who is running away with her Muslim lover, Fahwaz. Jasleen’s culture and religious parents want her to marry within the Sikh community and are shocked when she suddenly disappears. After Jasleen and Fahwaz elope, they think they’ve found happiness—but Jasleen’s family tracks the couple down and commit horrific acts in defense of their family honor.

This film is a heartfelt tribute to my amazing friend who had the courage and the conviction to follow her heart and stand up to her family.

Earlier, I was under the misconception that only women who belonged to lower socio-economic backgrounds in developing countries were the victims of honor violence. However, after extensive research, I learned I was wrong. Women from first world countries also face this societal evil, which is growing at an alarming rate. Moreover, sadly, one can belong to any religion, nationality, socio-economic status, and/or education level and still be a victim of this atrocity at the hands of their own family members.

Initially, both my family and friends were quite supportive of the fact I wanted to write and direct a film about this heinous crime. However, when I began facing opposition from particular religious and ethnic groups, they tried to dissuade me from making a film that would cause controversy. But I refused to give up. I knew when I took up this subject I was bound to face obstacles both as a filmmaker and a woman of color. After all, challenges are what strengthens one’s resolve, one’s character, and one’s spirit!

The mission of Forbidden is to create awareness about the abundance and severity of honor violence in the West. I hope to begin a dialogue with various religious and ethnic groups where we can discuss why such acts are being committed and what we can do to eradicate this evil practice. Moreover, I seek 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.

Do come out and support this important film at a festival near you. Below are the screening details for Forbidden:

NY Indian Film Festival (NYIFF):

Friday, May 11, 2018 at 9pm at the Village East Cinemas, 2nd Avenue 12th Street, NYC

International Film Festival of South Asia, Toronto Canada (IFFSA):

Sunday, May 13, 2018 at 3pm at the Cineplex Odeon Orion Gate Cinemas | 20 Biscayne Crescent, Brampton.

For more information about Forbidden, please log onto