The death of a close friend inspired Vibha Gulati’s haunting and award-winning short film “Forbidden,” which focuses on honor killings. In her directorial debut, Gulati weaves an impactful, timely story.
At just over 20 minutes long, “Forbidden” is the story of Jasleen aka Jassi, a Sikh woman in the United States whose father opposes her blossoming relationship with Fahwaz, a Muslim-American man. The two elope in order to start a new life away from these pressures. Even so, Jassi is visibly torn at the idea of leaving behind her Papaji (father) but she knows it’s for the right reason.
Honor killings are defined as when a woman is murdered by family members for bringing ‘dishonor’ to the family name. This includes in refusing for an arranged marriage, pre-marital sex, a relationship with someone from a different cast or class, wearing clothing that is deemed inappropriate, or even being the victim of rape.
“Forbidden” tackles this matter with nuance and even a little bit of mystery. The audience witness the story as it takes some gut-wrenching turns, but those twists are exactly why it’s a must-watch.
In one scene as they’re driving away from the life they knew, Fahwaz asks Jassi why she is so worried about talking on the phone with her father about their plans to marry. They live in North America, after all. What’s the worst that can happen? And with that, the film sets itself up to answer this very question.
As both of them journey on and make plans to say “I do,” Jassi’s father and brother catch up to them. It’s from this moment on that “Forbidden” clicks into high gear. The background score and editing build up the intensity of the climax. Jassi and Fahwaz make a run for it as her family, with a gun in hand, aim to catch them.
The last few minutes of “Forbidden” are surprising but not unpredictable because we know the subject matter at hand. Despite this, it keeps the momentum going and keeps viewers at the edge of their seat. This is largely due to solid acting work by Salony Luthra and Gulshan Grover, who play Jassi and Papaji respectively.
Luthra owns almost every scene in this film and does a remarkable job of portraying Jassi’s varied emotions, whether its heartache or betrayal or grief. Grover, who has aced playing negative roles, continues to impress with his performance and crisp dialogue delivery.
Gulati, whose previous credits include films like “Umrika,” “Tigers,” and “Sir,” makes the most of her brief time limit to deliver a sensitive, provoking short film. For her first time on the director’s chair, Gulati’s work is skilled and distinctive.
“Forbidden” really puts into perspective the notion of honor killing, which is unfortunately still common among many communities in South Asia and across the world. According to a United Nations report, 5000 women and girls are killed each year in the name of family honor but human rights and women advocacy groups claim this number is much higher.
In an op-ed for The Teal Mango in May when her film first premiered, Gulati wrote that it’s a misconception to assume honor killings only happen in third world countries. She saw it happen to a friend. “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,” she wrote. “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.”
A film like this is important because it is a reminder for us, as a society, to fight against this patriarchal and horrific act.
“Forbidden” will make its Los Angeles premiere at the LA Femme International Film Festival on Oct 13.
It has already won the Best of Fest Award at the Festival of Globe, Best Short Drama at the Indian Film Festival of Cincinnati, and Critics Choice Award Best International Film at the Mizoram International Short Film Festival.