From her home in Santa Monica, far from her native Kazakhstan, independent filmmaker and actress Gaukhar “Gia” Noortas beams as she talks about her latest project..
The movie is fiction. But the practice on which her movie is based is very real and is so common in Kazakhstan it has a name: tokal, second or additional wife. So far this trend has led to two best-selling novels and a TV talk show. And coming soon to a theater near you: a movie on the subject, aptly titled Tokal.
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest supplier of uranium and is the second largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union. Although the country’s economy is doing well and is the largest economy in Central Asia, the divide between rich and poor in Kazakhstan is still significant.
That’s making it easier for husbands and fathers with money and who don’t want to divorce to find women living in poverty with whom they create new and secret lives.
Make no mistake: Polygamy is illegal in Kazakhstan.
“They just form second, and sometimes third families. They are, as a rule hidden. It’s not an official marriage,” says Noortas. “They usually go out and basically will buy an apartment or house for those kind of wives. They actually even have children.”
At some point, the first wife discovers her husband’s secret life. And that’s the story of Tokal.
In the film, a traditional Kazakh family seems to living a traditional life. The wife and mother Bota (Gaukhar “Gia” Noortas), is a devoted social worker who buries herself in work and loses emotional connections with her husband and daughters. Kairat (Mark Dacascos, “Cradle 2 The Grave, Brotherhood of the Wolf), Bota’s husband, has an affair with Anel (not yet cast), who becomes pregnant with his son and agrees to be a tokal. In the fight for the same man, Anel and Bota gain a true understanding of a woman’s power, self-sufficiency and freedom.
“Some people I know and am related to have encountered this type of situation,” says Noortas. “I don’t think that this situation, actually, that is exclusive to Kazakhstan. I know the situation is very much present in China. It’s not unusual in Europe and definitely not unusual in Latin America. I would say this is some kind of international situation that women, unfortunately, have to face and make tough choices.”
The movie will be shot entirely in Kazakhstan.
Noortas loves to discuss her country, which is home to great, albeit undiscovered, filmmaking talent. She hopes to secure a place for herself in cinema by making films that connect Kazakhstan and its rich history which is filled with conquerors, a great heroic past–filled with Stalinism and mythology–to the world at large.
“Film is a very serious business. You could tell stories. You could do the honorable thing, and you can be making money. This film would be my first step to prove the concept for the Kazakhstan film makers,” says Noortas.
She believes that Tokal will appeal to audiences worldwide.
“This movie with all of the social problems that we show… it also shows the beauty of our culture, the family culture, the great family ties that are very traditional to our culture, so on and so forth.”
Though the movie has not yet been shot, it already has a Facebook page. And that provides gives a sneak peak at the movie’s appeal.
“If you look at the demographics of who liked the page, it’s pretty impressive because it goes not only to central Asia, which Kazakhstan’s the heart of central Asia, it goes all the way to Turkey, and then on the other hand it goes all the way to India, China. We have a lot of people that have followed the page from Europe and U.S. I think one of the reasons why I chose this subject matter is exactly because a lot of people can identify with it. I don’t see it as a very local story. I see it as an international story”
And the impact these dads are having on their families is serious.
“We actually talk about this in the movie as well because we’re showing how often times people just follow whatever without thinking what kind of impact that would cause on their kids. I’m actually myself divorced and raising my kids as a single mom, but I grew up as a daughter of a very loving father. I think this film does address the overall crisis of a family because I feel that very often love comes with responsibility over those we love.”
The film has piqued the interest of TAN TV (Kazakhstan), the financing partner of the project.
“TAN TV always raises the most topical issues of Kazakhstan’s society,” says managing director of TAN TV, Oleg Abdulkabirov. “Project Tokal interests us because it explores one of the most disturbing subject matters such as second (unofficial) wife. We will be all-round assistance in the shooting and promoting this project. We are confident in its success and public interest”
It’s also got some pre-buzz going in Russia.:
“Project Tokal does have Kazakh national flavor however will appeal to a wide audience,” says Eugine Cheltsoff, a director of Tokal project, who lives in Russia. “To begin with it’s a story about love triangle. Then it is a view on revival of old forgotten traditions and most importantly it’s an opportunity to ask some tough questions and a possibility to find the right answers.”
Noortas is staying busy. In addition to filmmaker and actress, since 2010 she has managed the Honorary Consulate of Kazakhstan in Los Angeles. And she has several new projects including a documentary that focuses on Kazakhstan independent in 1991, the crossroads it was in and the role the country ultimately played in nuclear non-proliferation.
“We’ve become the world’s leader in nuclear non-proliferation movement, and that is huge, incredible that this is something that he will be remembered by in the world because it was such an important thing,”
For more about the movie Tokal, please visit TokalMovie.com.