A few days ago I happened to attend a little film festival called the Open Frame Film Festival. Since I had class in the morning and since we had chanced upon it a day before we decided that something of this kind shouldn’t be missed and decided to attend in the second half of the day. Despite heavy rains and auto-wala’s refusing to take us to India International Center from JNU, we somehow made it to the last three films of the day. The movies were great, taught me a lot about a lot of things.
The first one was a documentary called the Purple Skies, a movie about the LBT community, women in the LGBT community being the focus of study. It is no secret that even within the LGBT community and outside it, women still have it worse than men. Mainstream culture also focuses more on gay rights and there is less relatively less exposure regarding lesbianism, female transgender, asexuality etc. Lesbians as a topic only comes up when there’s a “…that’s what she said” jokes and/or are the focus of sexual fantasies which tends to objectify women and their bodies. Any discourse regarding Lesbian rights or advocating their individual identities are either brushed off under the carpet or considered a threat to patriarchy, as it has always been. The documentary, directed by Sridhar Rangayan was a clean, coherent and simple film – devoid of artificiality of the kind that we are used to seeing in most commercial films regarding gay/lesbian rights, and dealt with the real life struggles of the LBT community in India. But that’s not just what the movie was about. The characters, speakers, activists and the real people from the LBT community are unabashedly queer and loving it. I mean. What’s not to love? They have found their own little family and well wishers within a community that accepts them for who they are- good human beings. The movie is about optimism, keeping a positive attitude towards life no matter what the odds are. The climax of the movie is the day when the Supreme Court of India criminalized gay sex with the article 377 breaking hearts not just here in India but worldwide. But what touches the heart is the sheer refusal to give up and cry about it. They promise to keep fighting and don’t for a second doubt that they won’t succeed.
My favourite part was when one of the lesbian characters says to the interviewer that she will have her Yash Raj movie type wedding one day, and you realize that it is a self defense mechanism, that instead of addressing the sympathetic interviewer she is convincing herself that things will be alright.
The next movie that we watched was called Mardistaan (or Macho-land in English). This movie was about four men from different age groups and their idea of machismo and masculinity in a society where there is an increasing rate of crimes against women. Their life stories were followed by their understanding of what it takes to be a man, their views on crimes against women, everyday sexism and the scope of chivalry in such a society. The fifth speaker in the movie is a renowned academician and Feminist Nivedita Menon (who is also a professor at JNU). Menon, articulated the whole discourse regarding gender roles and suggested the instability and fragility of the system. The reason that they are so unstable is because, according to her, it doesn’t take a lot to shake us up if there is a deviation from the hetero-normative structures of the society. We have such fixed notions of masculinity and femininity that there is, in such a system, no room or space for a third category, or even a fourth or a fifth for that matter.
I could narrate to you each of the characters’ life stories individually and how they stand in opposition to the hegemonic notion of masculinity, but I won’t. I challenge you to watch the documentary instead. Label me ambiguous, call me cryptic, or blast this whole thing off as absurd. But do watch the two movies.
And when you have watched it, take a moment and consider where you stand on these issues. How do the “…that’s what she said” jokes and “…that’s so gay!” remarks look like now?