Transgender persons in India and other Asian countries are gradually surfacing from the social stigma that continues to relegate them to sub-human levels of existence in society. The short documentaries made by seven transgender women and screened at the Russian Cultural Centre in Chennai bore witness to the fact that given due encouragement and recognition, the transgender population can enhance our social fabric by adding valuable input from their repertoire of skills and talents. These transgender women have used their personal experience to take on other social and sensitive issues setting themselves as an example to the society as 'responsible citizens'.
- Project Kalki
- Kanchana - Gen-Next Transgender Director
- Marching towards Dignity
- Sandhya on ’Kadal Nanbarkal’
The basic human tendency is to focus and be overwhelmed with one's own pain and suffering. However, it was refreshing to observe that in some documentaries the transgender women were able to transcend their own personal grief to focus on themes such as caring for abandoned elders, the very young and the marginalized. Perhaps the nature of challenge faced by the transgender people has served to become a 'calling' for some of them to dedicate their life for a specific cause.
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The documentaries were jointly presented by Alliance Française de Madras and 'Project Kalki' by Sahodari Foundation headed by Ms. Kalki Subramaniam, transgender celebrity and activist. Project Kalki seeks to provide opportunities for transgender girls and women to live a life with dignity and self-respect. Ms. Subramaniam's 'Punnagai' (Smile), a rare video with the theme of happy moments in the lives of transgender women despite the challenges posed by the society, set the tempo for what was to come. The following six short documentaries dealt with social issues and the zeal displayed by transgender women in addressing these issues. Sandhya's' 'Kadal Nanbarkal' (Friends of the Sea), threw light on the everyday lives of fishermen, inspired by her own childhood friends from the fishing community. Kanchana's, 'Nambikkai' (Hope), emphasised the need for the society to acknowledge the beauty and the talents of the differently abled and not amplify their 'short comings'. Sandhiya's 'Abandoned Souls', revealed her concern for the elderly abandoned by family and society. Her dream is to one day make sure the elderly are given shelter and well looked after. Maanu's 'Inaindha Kaigal' (Joined Hands) focused on doubts of social acceptance where she goes in search of her school friend wondering how he would react, now that she was a woman. The happy ending begins with Maanu being accepted as part of his (her childhood friend's) family. Soundharya's, 'Yen Amma' (My Mother), was about acceptance of a transgender person by one's own family, and the love of a mother towards her child, no matter what. The narrative ended with a generous dose of good humour. 'Abi, with Love' by Abinaya, was also about acceptance and encouragement for a transgender person by her family to pursue dancing. Though, not professionally trained, Abhinaya learnt by observing dancers such as Padmini and Vyjayanthimala Bali, and has had accolades and awards for her dancing skills. Her documentary traced her struggle to establish herself as a dancer despite her transgender status.
Acceptance and Response from the Audience
The documentaries were well received and the directors were encouraged to launch short films and tele-serials. Ms. Kalki Subramaniam cited lack of funds and equipments but confidently admitted to other projects in the pipeline such as Internet journalism and professional journalism such as podcast and so on. She further added that the rich families don't come forward to show their support and almost 95% of transgender persons are poor. As for the other poor or marginalised communities, they find the transgender population easier to accept as opposed to the middleclass families who keep a safe distance from them. When posted queries by the audience, Ms. Olga, the organizer reinstated, "transgender is a state of nature, and it is the non-acceptance that is the problem".
Lights, Camera and Action
The ideas for the documentary were thrown at random by enthusiastic novices. Ms. Kalki Subramaniam, a student of Journalism and Mass Communication herself, taught the aspiring citizen journalists to write scripts and most of the transgender directors had a minimum of two days' training on handling the camera. The camera was lent by 'Women Allowed' in Goa, and noticing that the camera was put to good use the lending period has been extended to one more year. The result however did not show any sign of amateur work. The idea, content, presentation and direction were all original. The music from the internet was licensed under Creative Commons and was used with permission. Another surprising fact, later revealed by Ms. Kalki Subramaniam, was that the efforts were purely out of will power and no financial support was offered by anyone. However she acknowledged The Alliance Française de Madras, for their patience, interest and the whole-hearted willingness to encourage the transgender people.
The transgender women directors were truly inspirational through their courage to step forward and change the way people look at the transgender community in India. Each of the transgender directors has had a troubled past and still face challenges in their day to day life. Two of the directors are teenagers, aged 18 and 19 years who have been subjected to begging and sex work. Hence Ms. Subramaniam posed the question t which morally obligated the society for an answer, "What is to become of the girls after five years?" She further suggested adoption of the young girls to enable them live a life with dignity.
Lives change for the better, there is hope. Sandhiya's dream is to learn folk dance from the institute that promotes 'Gramiya Kalaikal' (Rural Arts) in Tanjore. Also among the transgender women, Sandhiya is married and lives with her supportive husband. Medindia wishes Project Kalki the best of all possible support and encouragement in their future endeavours. And we eagerly wait for the rest of the projects to be successfully launched in the near future.