ABU DHABI // Areeba Hanif says marriage has always played a leading role in her life. The Dubai-based videographer was once a big proponent of arranged marriages, and was even once engaged to man selected by her parents. But her research into arranged marriages led her to an epiphany that it was not for her. The experience also convinced her she should try to fulfill a life-long ambition - to start her own wedding videography business. And now, in a twist worthy of one of a film script, she may even have found love herself thanks to her new venture.
"Marriage is the central theme of my family," said Miss Hanif, who is of Pakistani origin but grew up in the UAE. "I am the last of a generation of girls left in the family to be married. All of my cousins got married, one after another. There was a domino effect." Miss Hanif feels increasingly pressured to tie the knot. "I am 23. How hilarious is that, right? Why should I be worrying about this at 23? Why should anyone be bothering me about this at 23?"
It was not always so. A few years back, she was so enamoured with the idea of an arranged marriage that she wrote a script about it for a Dubai International Film Festival workshop. "I thought maybe if I wrote a script about my perfect suitor meeting my perfect heroine, maybe that'll happen to me," she said, with a laugh. "Much to my surprise, something did happen. My mum received a proposal [for me]."
But after receiving the offer, Miss Hanif said, she began to ask herself: "Are our lives scripted? Is my life scripted for me? I want to know. I want to have that control over my own life." So she started a research project, attending weddings and asking probing questions of the brides and grooms. In the end, she decided against proceeding with her nuptials. The arguments in favour of arranged marriage - especially that parents are best placed to make that decision for their children - suddenly felt hollow. "My script evolved... . My heroine became stronger. She began to demand a few things," said Miss Hanif.
Her character drew up a list of 32 attributes that a man would need to possess before she would consider marrying him. They ranged from looks to personality to family background. "That list is also mine, because the character is me," she said. With marriage firmly off her radar, she began to throw herself into her work, which at the time was making commercials, thinking nothing of putting in 14-hour days at the office. But before long, it began to dawn on her that she was not happy. She felt she was wasting her youth.
So she decided to make the leap and start up her own company, which she launched at the beginning of this year. "All of this - studying and growing up and getting to understand marriage - led to the birth of my company, My Big Day Films, because I just wanted to kidnap couples and find out what on earth they were thinking by getting married," she said. During production she asks them what they see in each other, where they met and when they knew they had met the one for them.
"I love what I do, and it has probably taught me the most important message: When you spell marriage, pay attention. The 'I' comes before 'age', so pick yourself first, because everything else can wait," she said. "But I think God has a very funny sense of humour, because just a month ago, I met that person," she said. "I took the whole month to tick off the things I learned about him and he got all 32 items."
Marriage is suddenly back on the radar for Miss Hanif, but she does not feel the same pressure to tie the knot as quickly as before. "I don't think it's a coincidence that I have met this person. Because of some decisions I made in my life, and because I knew exactly what I wanted, I was able to identify this guy," she said. "For many of us the right person is around, but we refuse to identify them because we're so obsessed with the idea of settling down quick."