The Love Commandos

The men fighting for the rights of young Indian lovers

The Love Commandos Every day in India, young sons and daughters are beaten or killed for rejecting the caste system and falling in love across these strict boundaries. These acts dishonour not only the family but the whole village, and can result in brutal punishments, even death. But in Delhi a remarkable group of men calling themselves 'The Love Commandos' are working day and night to prevent non-consensual arranged marriages and vicious honour killings. None
"The girl has been thrown in the car and is being taken to an unknown place. I don't know whether she will survive or not". Delhi's Love Commandos, a voluntary service run by Sanjoy Sachdev and Harsh Malhotra, receive daily calls reporting such tales of abuse. Even the Commandos themselves are often threatened. Co-founder Sanjoy calmly listens as a disembodied voice mutters, "listen Mr Sachdev. Just prepare yourself. Very soon you will be leaving this world". But the Commandos take these threats in their stride. "This is a jungle and someone has to roar. This is why we two madmen started. Now we have more madmen working with us!"

India's ancient caste system dictates that people only marry within their social group. Marrying for love is still seen by many as an irrelevant Western concept. Yet the Love Commandos have a profound belief in the purity of love and are determined to combat the archaic brutality of the caste system, and the village councils who sanction honour killings. Institutional support for honour killings is stronger than the Commandos first realised. Defense lawyer AP Singh, who deals with family dispute cases, is happy to declare that "if my daughter or sister tried to have premarital relations then I would pour petrol on her and set her on fire".

The Love Commandos have a network of secret shelters hidden throughout Delhi and run a helpline, answering hundreds of calls 24/7. At these shelters the couples can not only hide but also be legally married. One such couple is Nishan and Sindhu. Sindhu was kidnapped by her family, who tried to force her to poison herself. She was released after the Commandos repeatedly called and threatened to tell the press; her grandfather is a prominent local politician. "My parents, they don't care about happiness, the only thing they care about is pride", Sindhu explains.

The men have a bold dream, and have faith that "love sees no caste, no religion, no colour. It is love that will create a casteless society in our great country". But their job is getting harder as Hindu fundamentalism and heavy moral policing are on the rise in India, under the hard line Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is a long way to go before couples can even get away with a kiss in public.

A stirring film about love and family, and a powerful insight into the social and political turmoil in contemporary India.

The Producers

Miriam Lyons - Writer/Producer/Director. Miriam is a passionate, perceptive and experienced Shooting Producer/Director. Over the last ten years, she has made factual television programmes about a wide range of subjects – from love and loss to sex and death to protest and democracy. Miriam’s directorial debut came in 2005 with MISH KIDS for Channel 4. A series of short documentaries about religious teenagers struggling with their identity, it won Pick of the Day in The Guardian. Three years later, she was named one of Broadcast’s Hot Shot Directors. In 2010, she directed a unique television event THE PEOPLE SPEAK for History which received four out of five stars in Time Out and was co-produced and co-directed by Colin Firth. Since then, Miriam has directed programmes for a range of broadcasters, including BBC1, BBC3, Channel 5 and National Geographic. Miriam also produces documentary-style digital content across the public, private and charitable sectors. In 2013, she won nine awards including Gold at Eurobest, Silver at Cannes and a Silver British Arrow for BAD PRESS, a commercial she produced with CHI & PARTNERS for the Princes Trust. THE LOVE COMMANDOS is her first independently co-produced documentary film.

Teddy Leifer - Executive Producer. Teddy founded Rise Films in 2007 and has since produced or executive produced all of its films and television programmes including 2013 Oscar nominee, THE INVISIBLE WAR. A three-time Emmy winner, his producer and executive producer credits include THE INTERRUPTERS, WE ARE TOGETHER, ROUGH AUNTIES, KNUCKLE, DREAMCATCHER and WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? starring Gael García Bernal. Teddy has produced films for broadcasters including BBC, Channel 4, PBS, Showtime and HBO, which have gone on to win multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival. He is the producer of ITV2's multi award-winning Roman sitcom, PLEBS. The first series was the channel's highest rating comedy ever. Teddy was recently listed in the "100 most innovative and influential people in British creative and media industries" by the Guardian newspaper. In 2014, he won a Peabody Award and was nominated for a BAFTA.

John Stack – Producer. John Stack is a freelance producer with experience in high end broadcast and feature documentaries that have been screened at festivals, in cinemas and on broadcast and digital outlets around the world. He was associate producer on recent Sundance award-winning film Dreamcatcher, directed by Kim Longinotto, which aired on US network Showtime. Other credits include Oscar nominee The Invisible War for US public broadcaster PBS, Emmy award-winning The Interrupters directed by Steve James for PBS and BBC Storyville, Sundance hit KNUCKLE for the Irish Film Board and BBC Storyville, Too Fast to be a Woman? for BBC2, and smash hit ITV2 sitcom Plebs. John produced Miriam Lyons-directed The Love Commandos along with Executive producer Teddy Leifer and executive-produced Chancers, a Ben Lewis-directed doc for BBC4’s Storyville strand. John was a part of Sheffield Doc/Fest's inaugural Future Producer school in 2014 and won a Broadcast International Rising Star award in 2015.

Making The Film

One cold and rainy day in London 2010, I read an article about a group of fearless men risking everything for strangers’ love lives in India. What struck me the most was their steadfast commitment to protecting young people in the face of societal opposition, mounting debts and death threats. It was to be the start of an epic five-year journey to tell the story of the Love Commandos.

Over the next few years, travelling back and forth to Delhi to film, I had the privilege of getting to know Sanjoy, Harsh and their team and witnessed first-hand how they help countless couples escape from the violent oppression of their families.

When I first met the Love Commandos, I was touched by their humility, courage and sense of humour. Like any family, they have their ups and downs. During production, we experienced illness, theft and heartbreak but also celebrated birthdays, watched the cricket and danced together. Five years on, they still move me. I hope they move you too.

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