Documentary channel

Documentary ‘3 Seconds Divorce’ revisits the effects of triple talaq on Muslim women

Shazia Javed’s documentary will be screened in the international competition at the Mumbai International Film Festival.

Shazia Javed’s documentary 3 Seconds Divorce was made before the historic Supreme Court ruling that struck down the practice of triple talaq and the controversial Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, which proposes to criminalise instant divorce. The experiences of the women featured in the film are a reminder of why protests against the practice have raged over the decades. 3 Seconds Divorce will have its Indian premiere in the international competition section at the Mumbai International Film Festival that will run between January 28 and February 3.

Javed, who lives in Mississauga in Canada, said she had wanted to make a film on the topic for years. “Triple talaq is a subject that I have wanted to explore ever since I was a school-going girl growing up in Delhi,” said Javed, who has previously directed the short films Namrata and Can you hear me? “As a Muslim, this has been one of the practices I struggled to come to terms with. I then came across the works of scholars and academics who dismissed the whole idea of this being a part of Islam. I remember reading an article in a mainstream Indian newspaper on this subject by Asghar Ali Engineer and it made so much sense to me as a female, as a Muslim, as an Indian and as a human being.”

Javed focuses on women who have both been cast aside by instant divorce and have been subjected to the practice of halala, in which a man can remarry his ex-wife after she has married another man, consummated the union, and has been divorced. The filmmaker also explores the efforts of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which is among the groups that petitioned the Supreme Court for a ban on triple talaq.

The 54-minute documentary was shot between 2014 and 2017, and includes interviews with BMMA members. “They were doing the surveys, they were drafting alternate laws, they were counselling women at the grassroots level,” Javed said. “And there were other organsations too doing this work. The subject did pick up a lot more steam over the years and we were able to capture that. So the film is not just about this practice; it became the story of the women who were speaking up against this.”

One case study speaks for many other women: Mumbai resident Lubna, who overcomes her shock at being summarily divorced by enrolling in college and becoming an activist while raising her son. Lubna’s story is highly representative, Javed feels. “She is trying to juggle work, motherhood and activism all at the same time. Sometimes her spirits are high and sometimes circumstances take a toll on her. But she doesn’t give up. Her story relates the emotional labour that goes into a movement like this and the personal losses that activists incur.”

Shazia Javed (centre) during the shoot of 3 Seconds Divorce.
Shazia Javed (centre) during the shoot of 3 Seconds Divorce.

The decision to focus on a single character emerged from Javed’s desire to “delve deeper and not just wider”, but there are testimonials from other women too, who have been dismissed in a matter of seconds, some of them for trivial reasons. These include women who have been thrown out soon after their in-laws have run through the money spent on the wedding ceremonies.

The film emphasises that the effects of triple talaq are especially harsh on poor and working-class women. Javed came away with immense admiration for their courage in the face of impossible circumstances. “I interviewed women in the slums of Mumbai who questioned why the men has so much control on their lives and why women has no home to call their own but only a maika or a sasural,” the filmmaker said. “They wanted me to make this film – they willingly came in front of the camera. I was honestly amazed at their resilience. They are living in particularly hard situations in communities that do not allow women to get an education; where they do not have access to employment opportunities of their calibre, where their married lives resemble walking on egg shells.”

Javed’s comprehension of the practices of triple talaq and halala have expanded after making 3 Seconds Divorce – for one thing, she has understood better the price paid by the rejected women and their families. “I began to understand the dynamics of control, patriarchy and dowry behind this practice,” she said. “I knew that there are imams and muftis who defend this but actually interviewing them and listening to their justifications was another thing altogether. Most of them are totally clued out of the experiences and needs of the women. Nor do they seem to care to learn.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.