News and Events
Truth Behind the Fiction
By Heather Turgeon
Last winter, Pepperdine alumna Linda Mandrayar’s son came home from school with a reading assignment about a 13-year-old Indian widow who had been banished to the holy city of Vrindavan. The story, illustrating the rampant mistreatment of widows in India, piqued Mandrayar’s curiosity and came as a shock to both her and her husband, Dharan, a filmmaker born and raised in India.
Linda, who graduated from Seaver College in 1984, and Dharan, who graduated from Seaver College in 1983 and the Graziadio School of Business and Management in 1986, researched the topic further and uncovered a disturbing phenomenon that inspired them to take action. The result is a powerful film that is raising controversy over the fate of women in Indian society.
The practice of sati, in which an Indian widow is burned at her husband’s funeral, has been banned for almost two centuries. In modern times, however, Mandrayar explains that, “widows are destined for a social death.” Primarily in poorer and more conservative religious families, a widow is seen as a financial burden and a curse on her family. To escape a life of servitude and abuse, some voluntarily flee to cities in northern India like Vrindavan and Varnasi. Others are taken by their in-laws under the guise of a pilgrimage and are abandoned in the streets. Thousands of widows float through these cities, living in makeshift shelters, and chanting in the temples to earn one bowl of rice per day.
Using a fictional plotline based on the lives of real Indian women, the Mandrayars and Dharlin Entertainment wrote, directed, and produced the feature film, White Rainbow. The film, which tells the story of four Vrindavan widows, premiered in New Delhi last year to an audience of international dignitaries, and has been covered by the BBC, in addition to various local publications.
A previous attempt to raise this issue went down in flames -- literally -- when a Canadian filmmaker made a public statement by openly attempting to film a movie about the widows in Varnasi. Her sets were burned, her life was threatened, and she was forced to leave the country. The Mandrayars approached their project from the opposite angle: they kept production quiet, recreated the city of Vrindayan in the southern Indian town of Chari, and took a small crew to the real city for an undercover three-day shoot.
The film was named “Best Feature Film” at the Sedona Film Festival in March 2005 and was also shown on opening night of the Reel Women Film Festival in Hollywood in March and the Amnesty International Film Festival in May. The Mandrayars hope that the controversy it created will help secure distribution in the United States. For all the tension surrounding this film, however, its production came together miraculously. “The importance of the topic inspired everyone who worked on it,” Linda says. “This film is bigger than us.”
For more information, visit www.whiterainbow.com.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2005 issue of the Pepperdine Voice Magazine.