Film Conversations

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Traversing Sexualities and Spaces
-          Documenting the Kriti Film Club February 2019 screening

Kriti Film Club organised the screening of three short documentaries (I’m Not There, Zara Nazar Utha Ke Dekho and Please Mind the Gap) under the event titled ‘Traversing Sexualities and Spaces’ on 23rd January 2019 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Produced by PSBT, these films are a part of the Gender and Sexuality series. The evening brought together approximately 150 people as audience.

I’m Not There,by AjitaBanerjie, explores the relationship between migration and one’s gender, and views migration as a journey that allows one to leave behind a self that they don’t identify with and move to a new space, seeking a new identity. Set primarily in Bangalore, the film focuses on the lives of gender queer individuals who have migrated to the big city with the hope to build a new future.

Zara NazarUthaKeDekho, by Anindya Shankar Das, juxtaposes personal narratives of cruising from the LGBTQ community, against diverse visuals of Indian public spaces, revealing different facets and complexities of urban cruising. Shot at various locations in metropolitan cities of India, the film showcases the diverse ways through which queer people claim the public sphere under the shadows of the state.

Please Mind the Gap, by Mitali Trivedi and Gagandeep Singh, tries to document the life of Anshuman, a transman, as he narrates his journey and how the Delhi metro has played a huge part in it. As the stations pass, we begin to look at the metro space from his perspective. His story is one of reclaiming public spaces and one’s own self.

Kriti team’s founder, Ms. Aanchal Kapur welcomed everyone to Kriti Film Club’s first screening of 2019 on a winter evening in New Delhi. She also announced the release of ‘Our Diary 2019’ which documents people's movements in its 20th edition. Aanchal also welcomed the film makers of two of the documentaries and the PSBT team to the screening.

Post the screening of all three documentaries, the film makers (AjitaBanerjie, Mitali Trivedi and Gagandeep Singh) and Anshuman (the protagonist of Please Mind The Gap) were invited for an interactive session with the audience.

Arsh Bahl, one of the audience members, commented on Please Mind the Gap, “I love the simplicity of the film.” He commended the candidness of the character displayed in the film and applauded the film makers for the filmmaking method they used to capture different aspects of the Delhi Metro.

Saransh Bisht, a Kriti team volunteer expressed his desire to understand the difficulties (if any) that the non-queer directors may have faced while making films about queer individuals. In response to this, Ajita Banerjie stated that she did not face many hardships as she knew her film’s characters beforehand. She added that her focus in the film was primarily on migration rather than queerness. Mitali Trivedi told the audience that she and Gagandeep Singh met Anshuman a year before shooting the film and this gave them almost the entire year in building a rapport with and knowing each other. This level of comfort perhaps aided the making of their film.

Another audience member posed a question about the practice of absenteeism of directors from the film frame, adopted by almost every director. Gagandeep comically remarked that he had sung a song in the film. While responding to this question, Mitali and Ajita shared that they did not want to interrupt the narratives of the queer individuals in the films. Their film making process aimed at having the characters build their own narratives. Gagandeep added, “We could not have shot inside the Delhi Metro and therefore our focus was to capture Anshuman’s story only.”

A member of the audience remarked that there is an urgent need for queer-friendly public spaces. The acceptance can come only when the general public is sensitized about queer issues. It is also required that we move beyond gender binaries—so that public infrastructure and spaces accommodate non-binary populations without bias..

Commenting on the story built by the main character, Anshuman, in the film ‘Please Mind the Gap’, one of the members in the audience said that she loved the film because Anshuman was visible and was able to narrate his life in an unbiased and transparent way. She auded his courage and boldness.

A question was raised about the personal life of Anshuman, to which he responded: “I realized at the age of five or six, that I was born in the wrong body. When puberty hit me, things started to bother me. Since I was in a small town, I didn’t know much about people like me. When I moved to Delhi, I got to know about the term ‘Trans’ and my journey as a transman began from that day onwards. I did not know about the binders before. Frequenting women washrooms was embarrassing for me. The guards would often question my sex. When I got to know about the existence of cubicles in men’s washrooms, I started using them instead. The film was the result of a dialogue between me and the directors. We had put in multiple thoughts before deciding what parts of my journey would be shared on-screen. I think there are many more films that can be made on my journey, as there is more about me.

On being asked about the lack of narratives of queer identities/individuals from rural areas in the films, Ajita replied that one of the protagonists in her ‘I’m not There’ comes from a small town. Ajitha tried to focus on rural to urban migration as well, and made an attempt to capture the changing perspectives regarding migration.

Another audience member asked the directors about the various ways in which queer characters can be sensibly represented in mainstream cinema. Ajita stated that because of earlier laws, many film directors were apprehensive about working on this issue. However, independent media does take up queer issues every now and then. “The question of representation is related to law and societal acceptance”, she remarked. Gagandeep said that times are changing—terms such as gay and lesbian are now available in the public domain, so perhaps mainstream directors would soon make films on these issues too.

An audience member wished to know more about cruising and pointed at the lack of such spaces for queer women. In response to the question posed, Ridhima from the PSBT team described cruising as an activity in which queer men indulge in order to socialize with other queer men at a specific designated place. She also told the audiences about the few narratives of queer women mentioned in the film. She acknowleged the dearth of such public spaces for queer women.

AanchalKapur also commented on the documentaries screened. On the film ‘I’m not there’, she said that the director had beautifully explored the concept of migration-not just the physical migration but also the impact it had on the psyche of the migrants and how they negotiated their sexual identities. On ‘Nazar Utha ke Dekho’ she said that the film, tried to dissect masculinities in many ways. While talking about ‘Please Mind the Gap’ she narrated her time in London years ago and the experience of boarding the metro for the first time. Aanchal commented that this film managed to open up a discourse on public spaces. She expressed concern over gender discriminatory infrastructure in the capital city, while also addressing her experience of observing the changing use of public spaces and a gradual shift towards inclusivity in the city of Mumbai.

The common binding force of all three films was the ways in which queer individuals are reclaiming public spaces. The need and importance of inclusivity in urban planning was showcased as a major concern in all three films. Marginalisation in urban spaces is one of the multiple modes of social and spatial oppression that queer individuals confront daily. Even though post-liberalisation India has witnessed a tremendous change in societal norms, queer individuals still spend their lives under a wrap. The documentaries revealed the dilemmas faced by queer individuals across spectrums.

The films also brought forth the question of gender. The multiple characters shown in the films which don’t fall within the socially accepted heteronormative system shatter our imagination of historically rigid categories of a man and a woman. They attempt to widen our idea of gender and make an appeal to the larger public to give queer individuals equal representation in public policies.

The Kriti team volunteers for the event included Saransh Bisht, Himanshu Chugh, Charu Bahal and Divakar Yadav.

(Documented by Saransh Bisht)

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