India’s Forbidden Love

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Sadhana Subramaniam

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Orlando Von Einsiedel


What motivated you to make this film?

I came across the attack caught on CCTV on Facebook and it had a huge impact on me. 1 in 4 honour killings in the world happen in India yet the conviction rate is very rare due to lack of witness. When I contacted Kausalya she had agreed to testify against her parents and I was amazed by this bravery of a 20 year old and I felt that this story needed to be told. There aren’t many documentaries following victims as well as perpetrators to understand the social complexities in such culturally motivated crimes, so I decided to document this journey.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

We filmed with the canon C300 with the 24-70 & 50 mm lens. C300 is a great camera for observational filming and is quick to set up for run & gun style filming. In the Court premises we used a Canon 5D Mark iii to maintain a low profile and not gather up too much attention.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story. 

Since it was observational style of filming I had to let conversations flow in its natural course. It took a while for the contributors to understand the concept as they were very camera conscious, so I kept engaging with them instead of interrupting the natural course of the conversations. This made filming during some of the most traumatic periods easier. I always saved my questions for the last and encouraged interactions with other people.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

I set out to follow Kausalya and her fight for justice. After few days of filming and seeing Gautham, the brother at court I felt that he was also a victim of the incident. The access to the defence side took a while to negotiate. So, with that access the film evolved into a truly balanced story and highlighted the role of society in such crimes.

There were quite few restrictions on disclosing evidence that may affect the father appeal and had to make some serious cuts in post. If the film were to be done post appeal, then it could have delved deeper into the court case.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

Post release Kausalya got a lot of support from viewers. This made me feel that real impact was possible.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

When making, a film approach it with an open mind, even though there is a side of the story that you as a filmmaker do not subscribe to, one must still endeavour to provide a platform to bring out the complexities and the truth. Truth will always be the most impactful film.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

My favourite process was the story development stage, during research I got to meet so many people and understand their point of views. Gaining challenging access was a key part of for this film and its fulfilling when I obtained exclusive access to something I deemed key to telling this story.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why? 

I always carry a notebook as one’s memory can be a disputable at times! I always jolt down notes on all my interactions which help me creatively and to stay factually accurate.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

When filming with Kausalya’s grandmother we arrived to her house about noon. She very kindly offered us lunch. In Indian tradition, it is customary that a guest eats what’s been offered by the host. The grandmother would not engage in any other conversation until she would ensure the entire crew was fed. In the fear of wasting time, after a lot of negotiating we agreed that we would have sweet milk and that lunch was off the table. The grandmother half-heartedly agreed. She quickly disappeared into the kitchen and then returned after about 20 minutes with a big bowl of milk, 3 litres! Me and my crew of 2 sat there for about an hour drinking almost a litre of milk each in the fear of being impolite! What we thought will expedite my filming process turned out otherwise.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Being a woman filmmaker drew a lot of attention and this was worsened by the sensitivity of this case. There was huge opposition from the thevar community for us to film, but having informed consent from both the parents in Prison was reassuring. Every time we went to film with Gautham, his grandmother or Kausalya there would be huge crowds of onlookers. It was quite challenging to film with a strong mob of over 50 people watching what you do, especially in a village where woman to this day are severely oppressed.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

When it comes to hate crimes, there are no winners! There is no honour in killing anyone and we should not stand in silence and let this happen. Collective responsibility is a must in such cases.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

  • Breaking the stereotypical thinking of woman being a source of Honour
  • Inter-caste couples support
  • Separate legislation to deal with Honour killing outlining detailed process for all sides
  • Need for recording honour crime as a separate stat in India rather than be classed under murder
  • Steps that grassroots level organisations can take to create awareness


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

We are very proud of the positive impact that India’s Forbidden Love has had, highlighting the issue of Honour Killing in India at a time when new cases are occurring at a higher rate than ever seen before. Lifting the lid on a centuries old taboo – this film told the story of a courageous young female survivor, Kausalya and her family, which she accused of murdering her lower-caste husband.

For those campaigning against caste discrimination and a separate law to help prosecute honour killings the film has become an essential tool in raising awareness across villages, schools, colleges and legislators in India.  It has even entered the political discourse, with the Tamil Nadu Minister for Law making reference to it in his report to the Indian Home Ministry supporting a separate law.

The film has not just given Kausalya more support, but has been used by women’s rights groups to counsel other victims of honour killings.  With an invitation to screen the film at the All India Women’s Rights conference in Delhi this spring, where activists and parliamentarians meet to petition the government on new laws, its potential to help galvanise positive change continues.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Evidence is a charitable organisation that supports Kausalya and other Honour Killing victims in Southern India. They welcome volunteers for their anti-caste outreach programs. There are various opportunities to get involved in the field, at their office or remotely.

Kausalya runs the Shankar Social Justice Foundation and there are opportunities to volunteer to teach English to underprivileged children in Komarlingam Tamil Nadu.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):



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