An Interview with Sankhajit Biswas (Director)
Breaking Down the Barrier between “Normal” and “Different”
Q: I was impressed by the strength that the transgenders in your film showed in their support of one another and their courage in facing their challenges, and I was also moved by the beauty of their natural selves. Could you tell me a little about the position in India of NGOs such as the one where Chiranjit and Bubai, the protagonists of this film, gathered with their friends?
SB: When HIV campaigns started happening in Southeast Asian countries like India, money started coming in from the government, as well as outside funding agencies. These nonprofit organizations engaged in campaigns against HIV/AIDS, and also promoted LGBT causes.
In India, what usually happened to transgenders was that they used to go and join a hijra community. Hijras are eunuchs, and in the hijra community, they have their own way of sustenance. They will go to people’s houses when a child is born, and they will ask for money to bless the child. Ten or fifteen years back, that was the only way out for transgenders, unless they hid their real selves and remained in society. At least now, people have the opportunity to stay at home and work in a decent office—these NGOs—and sustain themselves for the time being. The NGOs help them to remain in society, and I think that’s a great option.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on social issues revolving around transgenders in this, your first documentary? In the film, people seemed to look upon Chiranjit and Bubai with piercing gazes, but how do “ordinary” people in India regard transgender individuals? How do they treat them, and communicate with them?
SB: The thing is that we “ordinary people” never accept transgenders, frankly speaking. In one of the sequences in the film, you see Chiranjit going by the lake. To show this, I went to a friend’s home, and we went to the rooftop and shot it from there. Now this friend, he asked me, “First of all, why are you shooting these people?” He also said that they were like spoiled children, and they should be slapped or kicked so that they become normal. This is the usual idea about transgender people not being normal, and my stand in making the film comes from there. Being a person who doesn’t belong to the LGBT community, I wanted to tell the audience—the entire audience beyond the LGBT community—that being transgender is a very normal phenomenon.
This is why I want all people to see this film. I had two screenings of this film in Calcutta, and after the second screening, many people—some of them were my friends and relatives, and other people also—came to me and said that from now on, they would at least try to see transgenders in a different light, and would try to see them in a little more tolerant way. That is what I wanted. Being a filmmaker is about giving some perspective to an issue or subject so that people can understand it a little more, and be a little sympathetic towards it.
(Compiled by Kotaki Yukie)
Interviewers: Kotaki Yukie, Tanaka Minemasa / Interpreter: Saito Shinko / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Kato Noriko / Video: Morikawa Miku / 2013-10-13