Despite the supposed simplicity of arranged marriages in South Asian cultures where relatives find a suitable match for you, the practice elicits its own complexities. Developing a romantic connection after getting married. Becoming accustomed to a new country in some cases. But also the beauty of the unknown, growing and learning to love one another together. Unconditional love and commitment. And in some scenarios, a special spark from the get go (the elders really got it right, somehow).
New television show, Four Years strives to explore all of this and more, with the show’s creator Mithila Gupta saying she had the idea for the eight-part series for a long time.
“I’ve always wanted to write a grounded, real and heartbreaking Indian romance set between India and Australia,” Gupta tells Draw Your Box.
Four Years follows the turbulent marriage of two young Indian lovers, Sridevi and Yash, through two timelines and worlds, told through dual perspectives. The pair have an arranged marriage, but their relationship is multi-layered, challenges stereotypes and offers hope.
“I wanted to offer a truthful take on arranged marriage,” says Gupta. “They are matched, but they get to know each other and their connection is electric. They fight for each other when times get tough. The love is real – it grew through the arrangement. I hope this resonates.”
As an Indian Australian, Gupta has grown up seeing arranged marriages take place around her. While her parents were actually the only couple in the generation of her family that weren’t arranged, she’s drawn inspiration from others to create a storyline that examines separation, long-distance relationships and immigration.
“The idea for writing about a couple being separated came to me back in 2010 when I met a barista, Raj, who’d been waiting to get his wife over here for six years,” recalls Gupta. “I felt like I went on a real journey with Raj. My morning coffee always came with an immigration and relationship update. I still remember his utter joy the day his wife finally arrived.”
She’s been working on Four Years ever since, but only took the concept to SBS in 2021, explaining it was “after I myself had fallen in love with someone (now my husband) on Zoom long-distance through lockdown”.
The uniqueness of Four Years can’t be lost on its prospective audience, which Gupta hopes is the Indian diaspora around the world. The show is not only being filmed in Sydney and Jaipur, but uses the Hindi and English languages interchangeably.
“It's all about authenticity and truth,” she reflects. “I speak a mix of Hindi and English at home – as would these characters who are from Jaipur but have access to a globalised world. It is such a pleasure to write Hindi dialogue, and it made my heart sing to hear the actors speak Hindi in auditions.”
Speaking of the actors, casting is underway out of both Australia and India as Gupta and her crew kick off pre-production in India this month. The selection of an all-South Asian writing team is also demonstrative of the project’s commitment to authentic representation. Nicole Reddy and S. Shakthidharan are part of the writing team with Gupta, while Mohini Herse and Fadia Abboud are directors.
“I chose Shakthi (Shakthidharan) because his play Counting And Cracking broke my heart and my soul in all the right ways,” says Gupta, referring to Shakthidharan’s stage production that follows the journey of a Sri Lankan Australian family over four generations, from 1956 to 2004.
“He's a lovely writer and even lovelier person so it was a no-brainer. I chose Nicole because I'd previously met her in many writer's rooms where she worked diligently as a notetaker... which is the hardest job in the room! I also read the pilot script of her own show and loved it so was excited to bring her on board too.
Gupta always had her eyes set on an all-brown team no matter what it took.
“It was a deal-breaker to [not] have South Asian writers on the show – this show is all about humanity and relationships so an authentic and nuanced portrayal of culture is essential to it… it can't be Googled!”
Of course, while the story is targeted towards the South Asian diaspora in particular, Gupta is confident it will still resonate with other cultures thanks to “universal themes of love, marriage, hope, and settling in a new land”.
Four Years is currently in production and will air on SBS later in 2024.