Divorce stands as a formidable taboo in the hushed corridors of societal conversations, often shrouded in whispers and sidelong glances in this part of the world. Yet, amidst veiled judgments and ingrained expectations, Nisha Retnamma, an Indian mom in Sharjah, is unravelling this narrative with her poignant 26-minute documentary, Happily Divorced. The former journalist-turned-documentary filmmaker seeks to dismantle the stigma surrounding divorce and redefine its narrative.
At a recent private screening, Nisha addressed the audience, sharing that her motivation stems from the observation that many cling to broken marriages, holding onto the illusion of a ‘happily married’ facade long after its lustre has faded. “People often endure the hardships of strained relationships for misguided reasons such as preserving family honour, conforming to societal expectations, or merely for the sake of their children,” says Nisha. “With Happily Divorced, I seek not only to break the silence surrounding divorce but also to empower others to challenge societal norms and embrace the possibility of a content and happy life beyond the confines of a strained marriage,” she adds.
Drawing from her personal experience of leaving a 14-year marriage in 2017, Nisha’s documentary delves into the often overlooked aspects of divorce. By weaving together the authentic stories of three women who have walked similar paths, the film confronts the multifaceted challenges and triumphs accompanying the journey from a difficult marriage to the embrace of a fulfilling post-divorce life.
Divorce rates in the Arab world are rising, notably in Kuwait (48 per cent), Egypt (40 per cent), Jordan (37.2 per cent), and Qatar (37 per cent). Lebanon and the UAE follow closely at 34 per cent. Last year, six couples in the UAE divorced within 10 days of marriage, with some marriages lasting only 2 or 3 days.
Despite the surge in divorces, societal stereotypes persist. “Society often rejects the idea of divorce due to the ingrained belief that marriage leads to a ‘happily ever after.’ Unfortunately, that’s not always the reality. Even if someone finds genuine happiness post-separation, many hesitate to share this with society. The lingering stereotypes surrounding divorce make it challenging to openly declare a fulfilled life after parting ways,” Nisha points out.
The film features three women, each with a unique background—hailing from New Zealand, India, and the UAE. Their stories diverge, highlighting various challenges, including physical abuse, emotional mistreatment, and the complexities of blending families. Nisha, who invested eight months in creating the documentary, said it was inspired by her own experience. ‘I found myself trapped in a marriage for the sake of my parents and society’s expectations. They believed separation wouldn’t lead to happiness, but I proved them wrong,’ said Nisha, who runs an educational platform called Chinar Global Academy and lives with her 12-year-old son.
Nisha Retnamma in a still from her documentary ‘Happily Divorced’
Launched last fortnight, the documentary elicited a mixed response, reflective of polarised views on divorce. While some hailed it as a courageous conversation starter, others expressed reservations, fearing it might embolden more people to walk away from their marriages. Undeterred, Nisha remains steadfast, asserting that the film’s purpose is to dispel misconceptions and challenge the normalisation of unhappy marriages. “My aim is to dispel misconceptions about divorce and challenge the normalisation of unhappy marriages. Walking out of a broken marriage isn’t just beneficial for the individual; it also imparts crucial lessons to children about self-love, prioritising mental health, and not sacrificing happiness for others,’ she explains.
Looking ahead, Nisha contemplates a potential second documentary that would include the perspectives of divorced men. “Divorce isn’t solely a woman’s issue; it impacts men too. Regrettably, it’s often portrayed as a carefree phase in their bachelor life, overlooking the challenges they encounter. Conversely, separated women face considerable social scrutiny. This is why I opted to spotlight women’s stories. Nevertheless, I’m open to the possibility of creating a second documentary that features both men and women from diverse nationalities. But for now, Nisha aims to showcase Happily Divorced at several upcoming film festivals. She says, ‘It’s an important issue that needs a bigger audience.’”
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