An interview with a gender-bending filmmaker is a window into the state of Indian conceptions of gender.
"I DON'T WANT TO BECOME A WOMAN," the Telegraph article is titled, and this point is driven home: although our reaction might be something along the lines of, "yeah, we didn't assume you did," it's clear that in India, filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh's cross-dressing requires the explanation.
In general, Indian LGBT rights are at a crossroads. On the one hand, it's a country that for thousands of years has laid claim to the transsexual Hijra caste; but this is a group that's consistently marginalized and abused. And while gay-rights organizations are growing in strength and number, the 19th Century colonial Indian Penal Code until last year described a same-sex relationship as an "unnatural offence."
Perhaps it's the presence of the largely-transsexual Hijras that forces Ghosh to clarify a status that, here, might fall under the elastic label of "genderqueer." He also makes the point that fluidity is an intrinsic part of Indian culture, and that binaries are largely a colonial construct.
I consider myself privileged because of my gender fluidity, the fact that I am in between. I don't consider myself a woman and I don't want to become a woman. I can wear kurta pyjama and direct a film; I can also wear kajal and jewellery and attend a social do.... The concept of unisex has been monopolised by women. Women can wear men's clothes. The problem arises when men wear women's clothes. Whatever I wear has always been worn by men. Wearing things like earrings and necklaces has always been a part of our sartorial history and tradition. These were tagged as feminine frills during colonial rule and I don't see anything wrong in reinstating it. My point is why shouldn't I celebrate my sexuality?
In a conservative film culture, his turn in the gay-themed Aarekti Premer Galpo ("Just Another Love Story") is also boundary-breaking. And the film, he says, "is set in a very specific cultural context - the tradition of performing femininity." His hopes for the film — the story of a relationship between two men of differing gender identity — are ambitious and heartening.
I can say that the audience will go through an emotional journey that will set them thinking anew about homosexuality. Because the film is also about the heart and the mind. What annoys me is that the moment we say homosexuality the first image that comes up is of two bodies in bed. Why don't we think of, for instance, two men or two women chatting in a coffee shop or watching TV together?...Even people who are homo-empathic look upon homosexuals as hapless victims of circumstances. I think it is an absolutely wrong notion, which leads homosexuals to believe that they are so. I think they are extremely privileged the way they are. The problem lies with how society looks at them; and not with them. Society can't accept people who are not normative.
These are bold words in a country where most homosexual relationships are forced underground, lesbians are frequently turned out by their families and, according to a 2009 survey "73% Indians feel homosexuality should be considered illegal while 83% felt that homosexuality is not part of Indian culture and 90% of Indians won't give their house on rent to a gay or lesbian couple." But it wouldn't be the first time film has been an engine of change.