I've mentioned a couple of times that I hope to soon be making a film in India, called DEFIANT.
The background is this – nearly six years ago now Jennifer and I went to India to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We'd never been to India before, and I must admit I was a little nervous.
I was worried that we might get very sick, that we might be robbed or attacked, etc. In fact none of that happened, and we found the Indian people to be warm and delightful and generous.
The first morning in India though, I was sitting down to breakfast in our hotel in Bombay (Indians call Mumbai Bombay still!) and I read a newspaper story – buried away on a back page.
The story detailed an horrific murder of a young couple who had fled their village to get married. It was called a “double honour killing.”
What made this story particularly horrific for me was that both parents of the couple had murdered their children. They had got together a mob from the village, including brothers and uncles, to hunt their children down and kill them.
I knew then and there, sitting in that hotel breakfast room, that I had to make this movie, and bring this barbaric practice to world attention.
I subsequently discovered that this was not an isolated incident. The reason the story was buried in the back pages of the Times of India was not because the newspaper was ashamed of what had happened, it was because these honour killings are so prevalent in modern India.
Around about a thousand such killings happen each year in India – and of course many more happen in other countries as well.
Writing a screenplay though daunted me, because I knew that I would have to immerse myself in Indian culture to fully understand the nuances of their social and religious mores before I could write a word.
I wanted the film script to be accurate, and truthful, and brutal. I didn't want to get anything wrong, because I didn't want the film to be dismissed as being overblown, or an inaccurate representation of Indian village life.
I subsequently joined forces with a producer, Anupam Sharma – an Indian by birth but now living in Australia. Together we formed a company to make this film – Honour Killing Productions. Since reading that newspaper article I have been back to India more than a dozen times.
Anu and Jennifer (a co-director of the company) and I have traveled thousands of miles through the “badlands” of India – Harayana, Uttah Pradesh, Punjab – interviewing honour killing victims and perpetrators, as well as Government officials and village elders who tacitly sanction these killings, and parents who have condemned their children to death.
It took me several years, and over twenty drafts of the script, before I was happy enough to send it out to cast. The feedback I got from Indians who read the script was that they believed it was written by one of their fellow countrymen, not a westerner. That pleased me. After all that research and work, I'd got it right.
I write about this today because the Sunday NY Times has published a photo essay on Indian girls leaving their villages to study in larger cities, and the pressure they're under from the men of the village. Here is the link to the story-
OMG, Bill, I had no idea about that in today’s India. I knew that these things had happened but did not know they were still occuring there today. It’s such a relevant topic for me as I have been feeling such dismay over the state of things in America and the depersonalization that I see with the overuse of technological tools, like the cellphone and texting. But, this article opened my eyes to the value of them in places like India and other third world countries , so thank you for opening my eyes. I think your movie sounds incredible and I will pray that it will be financed soon. The topic is one that needs to be publicized and you are the perfect person to do it !!
Thank you for educating me!
Yes, it’s pretty nasty!
Related to India and Australia, I am reading Shantaram now. It is beautifully written. Have you read it?
Hi Clare –
yes, read it a couple of years ago. Great book. And surprisingly well written for a gangster book!
It’s had a very chequered life so far as a movie –
Johnny Depp now has the film rights to the material. Peter Weir was attached to direct, but he and Depp had a falling out.
It’s in limbo at the moment, as far as I know, but it would make a sensational film. Part fictionalised, although it’s written as fact…
Bill, as you mentioned, not only in India. As you know Canada has a large Indian and Pakistani population… traditions as horrible as these… do not stop at the border. We hear stories here all the time of honour killings. Most recently a father, son and wife have been successfully prosecuted for the honour killing of his 3 daughters and 1st wife. It is the first time that I have heard that the killers did not magically disappear, as in so many other cases.
I am not on my home computer, hence not able to access some files. Neatless to say, it is one of the many issues we are presented with to consider taking on as a cause against, with Soroptimist Internatonal. I am not as knowledgable as yourself, but I recognized how important this film is to you and should be to us all. I wish you much success! Ingrid
Yes, there’s a very big Indian population in Toronto, and I’ve been aware of honour killings there, and in London and the UK too.
The terrifying thing about these killings is that the couples can escape to another country, yet the families will still come after them, sometimes through relatives living in the same country.
There is literally no place to hide sometimes for these kids.
Fascinating film project Bill & all the best for making this film very soon.
Terrific of you to be so focused on highlighting a horrifically barbaric & heart wrenching practice. Truly inconceivable that one can treat their own like this.
And very pleased to learn from you Ingrid that there has been some progress in prosecuting perpetrators.
Hi Janet, yes I’m leaving for London in a fortnight to talk to some money people. It’s a strong story, and one that needs to be told.