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Rainbow films in wet weather – Telegraph July 2, 2007

Posted by qmediawatch in English, The Telegraph.
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http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070701/asp/calcutta/story_7993505.asp

Romila Saha, 1st July 2007

Last week would have been hectic for those associated with the LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) movement. On June 22 and 23, NGOs Sappho for Equality and Pratyay Gender Trust organised an LGBT film festival at Max Mueller Bhavan, billed the first in the city, the Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival notwithstanding. Then there was a book launch by Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre.
“It is not that screenings of LGBT films have not been held in the city before. But the organisers did not claim a space for themselves as dealing exclusively with the issue,” explained Anindya Hajra of Pratyay.

Alain Berliner’s Ma Vie en Rose portrayed the social backlash faced by the family of Ludovic, a seven-year-old boy convinced that his being a boy was merely an unfortunate accident, to be corrected as soon as he grows up and becomes the girl he feels himself to be. The film takes on sensitive topics like homophobia and transvestism with humour, and above all with kindness, as with the portrayal of Ludovic’s conformist father who alternately lashes out and tries to accept his son’s identity.

But films like Patricia Rozema’s When Night Is Falling and Pratibha Parmar’s Nina’s Heavenly Delights had their subject as the sole justification for being included in the line-up. While Parmar’s film seemed a queer (as opposed to heterosexual) rehash of The Mistress of Spices, with colonial presumptions about the Orient intact, Rozema’s film was increasingly reduced to titillating soft porn in the absence of a plot to grip the viewer’s interest.

These films point to the danger of indiscriminate celebration of all things queer in the face of greater acceptance of alternative sexualities, that is perhaps as harmful as insipient homophobia. To merit a position in the city’s cultural calendar, more attention to the quality of films would help.

Romain Maitra, who watched The Investigator, directed by Chris Oxley, on the first day of the fair, said: “There is a lot of quality films that have been made on this subject. This selection of films lacked quality and The Investigator seemed more like a television series than a film.”

June 24 saw the release of the book, The Phobic and the Erotic: The Politics of Sexualities in Contemporary India, edited by Brinda Bose and Subhobrata Bhattacharyya, at Seagull. The occasion saw the screening of Performing The Goddess, Naveen Kishore’s documentary on Chapal Bhaduri, famous for his female roles in jatra. Bhaduri, who was felicitated on the occasion, looked like a lone mascot of the “sexual minority” in the midst of the academics and culturati.

The book deals with subjects like the queer in arts and cinema (the Fire controversy), the issue of empowerment and the way sexuality is undercut by considerations like gender, caste and economics.

A presentation by one of the contributors to the volume, Shohini Ghosh, looked into the possibility of the exclusion of heterosexual women because of the increased attention paid to queer groups. “Can identity be defined by appearance? A woman’s wearing a sari is different from the same by a hijra, though both conform to female stereotypes,” she said.

This is evident in Anita Khemka’s documentary, a clipping from which was screened by Ghosh. Laxmi, a hijra in Mumbai, says in the film: “My soul is that of a hijra. I am more than a woman. If you call me a man, you abuse me.” Agrees Anindya Hajra in Mahuya Bandopadhyaya’s documentary, Being Male, Being Koti: “Names like koti do reinforce stereotypes.”

In the end, it is the carnivalesque that remains after the politics of gender and identity has drained away — where Bobby, the Bollywood drag queen, dances away to strains of classic Bollywood numbers in Glasgow, in Nina’s Heavenly Delights, or Laxmi, the hijra, sways with the drunken beats of a dance bar in the darknesses of a metropolis.

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