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Hit and Run is hiring!

October 27, 2017
We at Hit and Run Films are looking for a Production Co-ordinator to help manage various film projects, as well as learn on-ground production ropes for documentaries and video shorts.
 
Previous experience not necessary, but we’d love for you to love films, but also love people, like order and discipline (we love control freaks), but can also tell when a whole team needs a break, and work on the belief that deadlines are only broken when an autocratic government falls.
 
We are looking for independent workers, who take ownership of projects. As non-fiction filmmakers for the last decade, we have lots to share, and a long way to grow together, and are looking for the right person to add to our team.
 
This is a paid position, and will be based out of our studio in Lajpat Nagar.
 
You can read about us here, and write to us at hitandrunfilms@gmail.com
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Khabar Lahariya and Us

July 22, 2015

You may have heard of Khabar Lahariya (KL).  It’s a group of newspapers written, edited, illustrated, produced and marketed by rural women from Dalit, tribal, Muslim and backward castes and runs out of Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand. They currently publish six editions in four local languages (Bundeli, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Bajjika) and have an online edition at www.khabarlahariya.org, which carries English translations for some of the stories.

40 local women from marginalised communities trained as journalists, reach 80,000 people across 600 media dark villages each week, in the local language of that area. It’s news that no one else cared to report, down dirt tracks no one else treads, and in voices that are distinct, and important.

KL has been mentored by Nirantar and won numerous awards, including the Chameli Devi Jain Award in 2004, the UNESCO Prize for Literacy in 2009 and the Marico Foundation Social Innovation award in 2014.

We at Hit and Run Films have been associated with Nirantar and the KL journalists for the last eight years, as filmmakers and media trainers, and have remained in awe of this intrepid team of journalists. The women have made immense personal, political and professional journeys to be able to write a daily history of India from its most hostile areas.

Here’s a short and vivid video introduction to the Who and How and Where of Khabar Lahariya.

At present, Khabar Lahariya requires well-wishers to support rural women reporters, most of whom, whilst being fearless journalists (you heard Laxmi’s voice investigating a farmer suicide in the video above), are also the sole breadwinners in their families. These journalists come from different histories: 18-year old Sunita paid for her early schooling working in a stone quarry, like her father before her. She’s now the only college graduate in her family. Kavita, now both Editor and board member, migrated to Punjab to work in brick kilns each year of Bundelkhand’s drought to feed herself and her family. Gita, an ace crime reporter, was asked to leave her marital home when she didn’t bring the dowry that was expected. Rizwana, from a family of Banarasi weavers, fell so deeply in love with new media that she went from being too shy to venture outside, to being the best photographer and designer we have.

These funds will enable these women journalists and editors working out of Mahoba, Faizabad, Sitamarhi, Varanasi, Lucknow, Chitrakoot and Banda, to buy themselves scooters and bikes for safer commuting to cover stories, especially after dark; inverters so that they are not dependant on the meagre electric supply in inner India; smartphones, so that they can maintain a journalist community on social media; cameras, because so many of them are bearing witness to truths of rural India – for the first time, among many other things that will facilitate them becoming better, stronger, influential journalists.

A reporter with KL costs Rs 8,000 to support for a month, Rs 96,000 to support for a year, and so on.

If you’d like to contribute online, you can pay directly here, else details for bank or cheque contributions are below:

Account Name: Women Media and News Trust

A/c No.: 0636000102213235
Bank Name: Punjab National Bank
Bank Branch: Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi
IFSC Code: PUNB0063600

All contributions are tax exempt, and receipts and a copy of our 80G certificate will be provided. In addition, your generosity will be rewarded with a KL bumper sticker with your name on it :)

Toh phir, go ahead and contribute no. Some splendid work this.

PS. Read about Khabar Lahariya in The Hindu and The Guardian

NYIFF Show Timings. And a Review.

May 5, 2015

Being Bhaijaan plays on Tuesday, May 5, at 9.15 pm and Wednesday, May 6, 12.15 am @ VILLAGE EAST CINEMAS, 2ND AVENUE @ 12TH STREET, NYC. Hope many of you get to see it. We wait breathlessly for thoughts, feedbacks, pirated screen grabs.

***

Back home in Delhi, actually in Gurgaon, we did a small screening of Being Bhaijaan for a group of film lovers, thanks to the stellar Meghana Narayan. Saif Ali, actor, writer, and an old dear friend, just back to India after a decade, watched it, and engaged us in a fascinating discussion. You know, the kind that make you feel grateful as filmmakers, and as people who watch films.

So, we requested him for a review. And here it is.

Thanks much, Saif.

Jai Salman. Naked Shirtless Religion

by Saif Ali

 

I had a knack for impressions as a teenager. It was a handy tool to win friends and sometimes influence people. Performances were arranged, thug-style, in the schoolyard away from the anticipated wrath of the subjects being imitated. A mob of kids stood around while I belted out impressions and improvisations of selected pedagogues. Sometimes a peer would request an impression of a particular person and I would have to say no. The thing of it was that I did not choose the subjects of my impressions, they chose me. I never “worked” on an impression. If a teacher evoked in me a strong emotional reaction, I would automatically start to behave like them. Fear, respect, admiration, even an amused endearment could spur this process. The protagonist of Being Bhaijaan, the buoyant Mr. Shan Ghosh, could school me in the art of impersonation because he has made it his life. In this way, he is my hero.

“Fear is a type of respect.”

  — Shan Ghosh

Shan Ghosh is sorted, on-point, cut like a sirloin and in love. With Salman Khan. Even if a Bollywood goddess were to perform the dance of love on screen clothed in waist hugging apsara attire, Shan would still only have eyes for Salman bhai were he to be on screen at the same time. Hassanwalia and Farooqui have captured the masculine mind of the small town lad without making a huge fuss about it. Shan and his friends live by a reverence for chastity, are frustrated by women’s empowerment and repulsed by overt displays of sexuality or as they call it “exposure.” A tool used by women to tease men and play them like cheap harmoniums. The deification of Salman Khan is completed by Shan’s friend Balram who proclaims Salman to be an avatar of Vishnu who controls the population of India via his celibacy.

The truth is, a film about the chauvinism of the subaltern is nothing to write home about. It attracts nothing but nervous laughter from urban elite who leave the theatre with sanctimonious comments about the problems inherent in the system, only to wait in traffic in their 4 door sedan. This is where Being Bhaijaan makes it mark as a documentary worth watching. The filmmakers have an Oprah-like quality when it comes to developing an intimacy with the subject. In a moment that could never be scripted and performed, one of them surprises Mr Ghosh directly asking him his age which begets a priceless reaction of mirth and shyness. “Secret question!” he says.

Through this empathic lens, we are allowed to see into the very heart of Shan Ghosh and the debate about gender roles and patriarchy becomes an aspect, rather than the central theme of the film. The theme itself becomes the emancipation of the soul. The film is a document of the emergence of a deity out of the filth of power structures, misinterpretations, ignorance, lust and the search for identity. We see that unconditional devotion to a set of ideals, no matter how ridiculous they are, leads to the liberation of the human being. We see that in order to achieve said liberation, one needs an attitude of quixotic self-belief, a habit of self-reflection and the ability to realize that the only place real change can occur is inside one’s heart.

All of these qualities constitute what is called a religious mind. A truly religious mind. A mind that is compelled by love to works against itself. A mind that we can argue, is possessed by Ghosh. He is the true believer who wishes to make himself in the image of his god knowing fully well that he can never achieve the perfection of Khan. On the contrary, we find Balram. He is the ordinary sort of believer. He is afraid and riddled with problems of self-worth. He sermons relentlessly and yet is unable to face the prospect of appearing before his deity, the charitable Saint Salman. He hides his imperfections behind ideals whereas Ghosh revels in his imperfections, making them the fuel for his spiritual practice. We see that religion is not a comforting and secure dogma, it is a continuous enquiry. Worship means hours at the gym.

“I used to be very suspicious type. But now, I live with one mantra – no expectation, no disappointment…I have no expectation from people, or the country.”

 — Shan Ghosh

It is the filmmakers job to do the hard work of sifting through a seemingly chaotic set of circumstances and make a film that presents an opportunity for the viewer to take a shortcut to wisdom and understanding. This way the audience can truly get their money’s worth. No doubt, in this vivid and lucid analysis of the cult of Salman Khan, Being Bhaijaan achieves transcendence and becomes a commentary on the human struggle and ultimately, an allegory of religion. Watch with an open heart and in 80 minutes flat, you could potentially get wiser by a few years.

Being Bhaijaan, Official Selection, New York Indian Film Festival, 2015

April 20, 2015

bhaijaan-poster

And a piece we did for the Hindu Business Line, on the making of our film –

“It must have been about five years ago, sometime after Wanted released. We had just come out of a disconcerting theatrical experience in a Delhi multiplex, where men of all ages sat feet up in lounge chairs, spilling their guts into giant bags of popcorn, cheering a seriously violent vigilante Radhe played by Salman Khan, in a film that would mark his return to popular imagination. (Or so we thought. In reality, Khan never left the Indian male imagination.) Meanwhile, in Meerut, a friend reported, groups of men went to watch Bhai’s latest offering, and at a crucial moment in the film, just as Bhai seems beaten by the villain, they took off their shirts en masse and roared, “Bhaijaan, Bhaijaan, Bhaijaan,” and shirts were flung at the screen. As if on cue, Khan tore off his own shirt. Muscles ripped. Blood spilt. The friend who kept his shirt on said he could taste the adrenalin in his mouth.

Four years later, we were in Janki Talkies, Nagpur, at the first-day-first-show of Khan’s Jai Ho, to try and understand the many meanings behind this pagan ritual. We had been shooting our documentary, Being Bhaijaan, with Shan Ghosh, a Khan lookalike by profession and passion, and ‘Junior Salman’ of Nagpur. He is ‘hamara Salman’ on the Jai Salman WhatsApp group, and a beloved bhai to textile salesman Balram and ‘engineer-at-heart’ Bhaskar. Along with other Salman Khan fans, we watched Jai Ho, breathless and moist-eyed, knowing that we were recording the boys’ collective search for a larger identity to replace the very ordinary one life had handed out to them.

Mard hone ka matlab kya hai (what’s the definition of a man), we had asked boys and men across Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and parts of Kolkata, researching for the documentary. Aukaat (stature), they replied. Pehchaan (identity), said others. We talked to Salman fans in cities and cities-in-the-making, where the star’s strongest fan base lies. Many of these boys were at the cusp of manhood, looking for a code to abide by. “You know, what being a Bhai means? It means everyone is going to look up to you,” said Kaif, 22, from Orai, UP. Being a Bhai seems a logical aspiration, actually. Since, the only way men defined themselves was through the roles they played. I’m a son. I’m a brother. I’m a friend. I will be a father. Not knowing where they stand, and what they should want, the grandiose lexicon of patriarchy comes to their rescue. Honour, duty, protect, provide, respect, stature — aukaat — that word, over and over again. “When people look at me they should say, ‘Woh dekho, Bhaskar jaa raha hai’,” says the grandson of a well-known wrestler in Nagpur who died in penury. “Just the way they would say, ‘Woh dekho Madho Pehelwan jaa raha hai,’” he says, surrounded by wires, designing a “top-secret product” for Salman Bhai.

Just a few years ago, India was being celebrated for having the largest number of young people in the world. Today, economists consider it a demographic nightmare. Gleaming India, one which Shah Rukh Khan represented, doesn’t seem true anymore for anybody, especially for unemployed boys fighting hard to find a purpose. Salman Khan took the stories back to mofussil India, and in film after film, stood as its protector. He also brought back the vardi, or police uniform, one that had all but disappeared after the spoils of globalisation made it irrelevant. He was clearly onto something. Vikram, 22, from Behraich said, “Three lakh engineers come out of each state every year. If I continue as an engineer, I’ll just be one of them. My dream is to be in the IPS. Everybody respects a uniform.”

Izzat (respect). This too came up repeatedly, like one of god’s own names. “Especially, when a girl says ‘aap’. Aajkal to saari ladkiyan ‘tu’ bolti hain (these days girls don’t use the higher register of address),” says Balram, as he sets up a new page for the Jai Salman group on Facebook to rescue it from trolls. “The way Sonakshi Sinha says it…” he adds, blushing.

We’re sitting in a sea of cafes in Safdarjung Development Area, roughly half an hour and two civilisations away from Najafgarh. Rajesh, 35, points out various groups of men, most are friends or friend’s friends, since all Jats are brothers, really. He shares tales of growing up in bordering Haryana, of a new rush of money, of falling in love with women you were only allowed to watch from the terrace. Of never being touched by a woman, in case you got killed. “When we came here first, we were so shocked. We saw all these women. They talked differently. They wore different clothes. It was mesmerising. Everyone fell in love. Madly. The women used them, ditched them. The men just didn’t understand.”

This complete bafflement at the “new woman” often comes out as suspicion. Stories abound in small-town India, in big-town India, in cafes and bars, in chai shops and at the barber’s, that she, the woman, broke his heart. She left him. She said no. “Even Salman Bhai is unmarried because of this,” says Shan aka Junior Salman. “Because he said he’ll marry a woman with the sanskar (values) of his mother. But those girls are no longer in the market.”

While the Indian woman was finding a new language to fight patriarchy, while she was learning to say no, the Indian man found himself rudderless, set out at sea. Rejection is a powerful force. And in Salman Khan’s films, the woman never says no.

Salman Khan, a protector of folk-hero proportions, is impervious to a failed liberalisation dream. Khan embodies the narrative of self-reliance. ‘Mujhpe ek ehsaan karna, ke mujh-pe koi ehsaan na karna’ (Do me the favour of not doing a favour). Shohini Ghosh, professor, essayist and filmmaker, who has been working with masculinity and fandom, and has a chapter on Khan in her PhD, once told us, “For anybody who has not been on top of the post-liberalisation boom of the last decade, for anybody who has witnessed the liberalisation benefits but from far, who have brushed against it but not ridden it… they like Salman Khan… And since, in today’s country, you can’t depend on anyone else and the system will fail you — your body will be your only weapon.”

There are more gyms in small-town India than cyber cafes. A gym trainer in Chhindwara, dressed in a fitted red T-shirt with a plunging V neckline, says, “Every hero today has a six-pack. But it all started with (the song) O O Jaane Jaana, when Bhai took off his shirt.” These men-only gyms have been crafting a new body for the Indian male, a Kshatriya body, which relies heavily on upper-body strength. More importantly, it’s a body on display, like a painting, joyous and hairless. If Michelangelo were to paint today, he’d set his canvas on the streets of Meerut and Chhindwara.

At various points in history, we’re reminded what it is to be men and women, lest we forget, lest society dissolve. We’re taught to protect ourselves against a cruel world, lest we forget, that to live is to fight. For men and women suffer equally, cry equally, to create an identity under an overwhelmingly patriarchal society. If we had feminism to help us through this mess, Bhai fans, it seems, have Salman Khan.”

[First carried here]

Conversations with Men – Episode 1

August 20, 2014

Before and during the making of Being Bhaijaan, we had many conversations with men we know and men we didn’t know. In these conversations, we tried to understand various masculinities, and key moments that inform its construction, through personal, autobiographical anecdotes.

Some of those chats turned into notes, then into edits, then into long letters, and are now shared here, as a series of posts.

We begin with SB, who makes sense of the world through his body. A body that lets him discuss notions of control, immortality, approval and facilitates the creation of a “new normal”. It’s a body through which he explores relationships between fathers and sons, lies and testosterone, and himself and the mirror.

Yenjoy :)

PS: with this post, we also wish SB lots and lots of luck for his adventures ahead.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________For blog 1

“Dialogues” with Dad

I was set up for a rather fractious dialogue with my father a few days ago (ok, I admit, it was likely to be an outright argument). A woman + potential matrimony + lack of “progress” was the subject.

He had been in Delhi for a bit over a month, during which quite a bit of water had flown under the bridge as far the aforementioned subject was concerned. Luckily for me, that month also had been one in which I had continued to regular with my workout and food routines, and my core and leg muscles had become more visibly defined.

So, once I got back home that night after work & working out, I put my brilliant plan in action. I showed him what one kg of controlled fat loss looks like when concentrated around the abdomen. Also threw in a few back poses for good measure.

After a bit of back and forth, and general inventory assessment of which muscle groups had visibly improved since we had last met (or since he had last seen me in underwear), he finally said that “a father should not compliment his son, it isn’t proper”. That’s when I figured out it would be good to carry on with the rest of the conversation.

It’s good to have an ex-workout freak for a dad.

 

Inventory Assessment

Speaking of ‘inventory assessment’, this is how my dad breaks it down, part by part.

  • “You got your legs from your grandfather.” A bit of envy there – apparently the “legs” skipped a generation.
  • “Keep working on your back. You need to have good lats.” Aspirational threshold there is really high. Apparently Steve Reeves used to strap on an E-Z curl bar on his back with a custom-built rig and then do wide grip pull-ups.
  • “You have weak triceps. You biceps are fine, but concentrate on your triceps.” Me? I used to chuck hammers for a living back in the day! That one was a letdown, and it think it showed on my face. Then he showed me that his triceps were still stronger (age 71 and counting) by doing reverse pushups with the armchair for support. Damn.
  • “Still some fat around the sides. Hmmm… What can you do, you love eating.” That’s the tough love approach to a pep talk.
  • “Lay off your chest. You don’t need to strut around looking like a rooster.” For once, I fully agree.

So, the good stuff is genetic, and the rest is work in progress at best.

Old school all the way.

 

Racing Friends & and the neighbourhood gyms

I have “almost friends” in the gym who race for a living; two close friends, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Tweedledum is the more worldly wise of the two, and also happens to be motocross champ in India (not sure which format), and tailors his workouts to make sure that he remains fit while not losing his racing mojo. One instance – he does not work out his upper chest – because he needs to fit into the bucket seat with the cross-body seat belt going over his shoulder when he races cars.

Tweedledee, on the other hand, always has a story to share and a woman friend to call. He is all that you would expect a gym buff to be, but off late he’s gotten very focused on cutting down body fat and muscling up. Cardio in the morning, weights in the evening, five times a week at least. It was fascinating watching how he got focused on his fitness goals.

Even in a discipline as personal as body building or body sculpting, a sense of community is absolutely vital to being able to make it to wherever you want to go. This is what changed when I joined my gym I’ve been at for the past 15 months. It took me about 3 months to “earn my place” in the gang, but it has been a great ride all along.

The evening crowd (7 pm till closing at 9 pm) is composed of the serious gym freaks, including the two chaps I mentioned earlier. Weight loss people come in the morning and during lunchtime. Interesting how even at a commercial gym, there are class distinctions.

Earning your place require you to show up regularly, for 3 months, and over a longer time span, lose about 10 kgs, improve strength by 30%, and eat with the appetite of a headless chicken. This is, of course, merely inference on my part. You get a pass on earning your place if you happen to be a professional sportsperson, with a minor preference for soccer over cricket.

So yes, I’m glad it’s not a “regular” gym. It seems to be a bit closer to the stories of “local gyms” that I heard growing up. Particularly fascinating is a story my dad likes to tell about an akhara/ club that was close to his home in central Calcutta. Every year, at the end of Durga Pujas, Durga’s idol would be taken out for immersion on a bamboo frame, carried by members of the club on their shoulders, clad only in white dhotis with a red gamcha tied around their waist. It’s sad to compare those guys with chaps I see at the visarjan ghat in east Delhi every year, who seem to be more concerned with how well their shades match their muscle tees.

 

Lies and Testosterone

How does exercise affect your more basic bodily functions? Testosterone production definitely seems to be affected, which is used to justify all kinds of male behavior, ranging from juvenile to inconstant to outright subhuman.

As far as juvenile goes, I do tend to notice shapely women more now, I think. The nice thing is, I would like to believe that shapely women notice me more, too. As the corporate networking monicker goes, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. Knows, nos, more of the former, less of the latter.

So the one lie you end up telling yourself is that it’s all because of the testosterone. It’s actually stuff that was buried within all the time, coming to the forefront.

 

Extrinsic Reinforcement

The most unexpected compliment I got was when I was walking out of a hotel gym in Bangalore. The trainer asked me, “Sir, are you a model or an actor?” And I have immense respect for the masculinity of Kannadiga actors. After all, kicking villains 30 feet through walls and car windows takes serious mojo.

The most emotionally satisfying compliment came from my Dad, when he told me he couldn’t compliment me since dads aren’t supposed to take overt pride in their sons – it’s bad luck. He was admonished by his father for calling me a “healthy child” when I was born. I’d like to believe that he was being factual then, and not maternal.

The most flattering compliment I got was from a a cousin who I met after a long hiatus. A career Army officer, about 10 years older than, he is quite the crowd favourite. On his way back to drop me to the Durgapur railway station, he took a photo of me to post on Whataspp to the rest of the gang.

 

Exploring Mortality

Someone also said, “You’re looking younger.”

So is that the motivation? Looking younger? I’m not too sure. I think feeling younger, if youth is associated with fitness, is closer to the mark. But even that’s not a complete response.

I think what Yudhistra said to Lord Yama (when the latter appeared in disguise and laid the rest of the Pandavas unconcious), bears repetition. When asked, “What is the greatest wonder in the world?”, Yudhistra responded, “Every day, millions of people die. And yet all of us who are alive go on living as if we will never meet out end.”

On the other end of the spectrum is what one drunk said to the other, “If I’d know I’d live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

 

Intrinsic Reinforcement

As a stomach sleeper, it is still a novel experience to find myself resting on my rib cage and hipbone, and not my stomach, when I’m going off to sleep. The first time I felt this, I remember thinking I needed to check the mattress for gremlins the next morning.

The mirror has also gotten a whole lot more forgiving – a leaner face definitely looks better, visibly demonstrated on the social network when I updated my profile pic recently. I got some size 36s tailored down to 34s, and I now I need 32s. A bit skeptical about tailoring down trousers one more time – the specter of adding back a couple of inches still looms large, and it will take me a while to believe that 32 is here to stay. I also own 38s, but hopefully those will never again see the light of day.

The mirror is an indispensable workout accessory. I did not have any comprehension of how hard posing can be, or that there are seven classical bodybuilding poses that need to be mastered first. It’s also exhausting business, and can replace 10 minutes of cardio if done properly. The weirdest pose I’ve been asked to strike, purely in the interests of checking out my own progress, is to have by back to mirror, bend down and look through my legs at my hamstrings.

 

More Legs, Anyone?

And not in the form of chicken drumsticks, or Drums of Heaven if you happen to be in Chinatown in Kolkata. Indian men have a penchant for being obsessed with their chest and biceps. In the balance, back and legs get severely neglected. An amateur bodybuilder I know has arms about as large as my calf muscles, and on a good day, my arms are about as large as his calf muscles. Whatever happened to proportion?

The honest fact is that leg workouts are painful. With squats and dead-lifts, you’re doing some of the most serious compound exercises around. Great for raising heart rate, which in turn makes them feel sucky. That’s why I try to put in three leg workouts every week.

You see, if you are ever in a jam, it’s either your back (think about a car stuck in mud) or your legs (a   fast-departing bus) that will get you out of it.

 

But Why?

Why push so hard? Because it actually gets easier once you’re “inside it”. Normal is whatever you choose. It is a statistical concept, after all (the most commonly occurring event or data point). Normal has nothing to do with our assumptions about how the world should be.

If you can redefine what you consider normal, the possibilities are endless. The human body virtually has no limits, it’s just that we don’t test them – at all.

Being fit is also about control. It is one of the few things that gives you unambiguous results. But fitness is also a cumulative process – there are no one-hit wonders – your workout and your food aggregates one inexorable day after next. And whether that aggregate builds you up or breaks you down is all up to one person.

Being Bhaijaan and Other Such

June 23, 2014

 

 Image

 

Here it is. Thanks, Kamal. As always.

Being Bhaijaan is on its last post-production breath. We have been exploring masculinity in a changing India for over a year, and we have a short and a long story to tell. One of them is to do with Salman Khan’s fans. Starting this summer, we will have a series of posts to make a little sense of what we heard, what we experienced, during the making of our films. Would be great if y’all stop by and listen, as and when.

Until then, a synopsis –

This is a story of a Salman Khan Look Alike, or as the posters of his dance shows say, Junior Salman of Nagpur. He is ‘hamara Salman’ on the very intense Jai Salman Whatsapp group, and is a beloved bhai to textile salesman, Balram and the engineer-at-heart Bhaskar. Together, with other Salman fans, they’ve launched a combined search for a larger identity, to replace the very ordinary one life handed out to them. Being Bhaijaan explores Indian masculinity by mapping the emotional, spiritual and philosophical contribution Salman Khan makes in the lives of men in small-town India, who find themselves increasingly disassociated with a changing country, its competitiveness, and its new woman. And find solace in a notion of manhood, constructed brick-by-brick, through a superstar’s perceived personality, which is as old-world as Salman Khan’s films.

V Day

April 16, 2014

It’s only taken a few hundred years, but in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India has recognised the Transgender Indian as a third, legal gender. Now, a Transgender Indian does not need to identify as male or female on passports and identification cards. This means, our legal system has somewhat freed our identity from our biology.

The court has also directed state governments to include transgender people in the OBC count, which enables them to take advantage of the affirmative education and employment policies.

 Last year, we spent all monsoon listening, recording and filming stories of the Transgender experience in Indian schools. It informed our larger work on gender and masculinity in most compelling ways, and made us ask questions, which most of us forget to.

 

 

It was a humid day in Kumortuli. The sort of humidity that weighs on you like silence, but for a kachh kachh here and a chhap chhap there, a steady tap tapping of hands finding fingers in clay. We skirt casts of strewn limbs looking for a metaphor in mud. And Rajoshri gifts it to us, with the quiet assurance of a historian. “Actually, it’s very interesting to see that when they build idols for worship, the genitalia is built last. Until the very end, we won’t know if it is a male idol or female idol. The gender is assigned last. Similarly, when we are in the womb, our genitalia are formed last.”

Roughly a year ago, Nirantar’s intrepid Sexuality team approached us with an idea. They said that they’ve been talking to schools and colleges, and nobody has any formal record of testimonies that tells us what it’s like stay in an Indian school if you identify as anything other than male or female. But they had an informal collection of fragmented memory. From friends, colleagues, mentors, lovers, strangers on the metro. All of which said exactly one thing; documentation of any other gender experience doesn’t exist because the Indian education system, as a faithful reflection of its society, only understands gender as a binary. The rest of the spectrum is buried very, very deep. They asked us whether we would want to film some of these memories, so they can take it to the people who make the rules, pass the bills, draft school curricula – and persuade them to acknowledge the existence of transgendered people, in a legally binding way. We did. During the course of which, we understood, for the first time, the tyranny of hetero-normative behaviour.

There were long train journeys that seemed too short to fully understand the full mechanism of burial. Rituparna and Tanmay, our Nirantar guides and compatriots, asked us to look at our own past, our deeply codified behaviour, because that would be the only way we’d be able to listen. And we sat across Sunil, about a week later, wishing we could be as vulnerable, as open, as he is. The sun took a last shy breath in overcast Bengaluru, and he lit another cigarette. “Society has built two boxes, and everyone has to fit into it. People who don’t fit into any of these boxes, turn into minorities. When people ask that question, are you a woman or a man, I say that I am whatever you want me to be. I don’t have a problem.” Sunil works as a Queer activist and is video documenting oral narratives of finding oneself across the gender spectrum in India. He left home 14 years ago, and has never returned. “With what emotion do I remember my childhood?” he thinks aloud, lighting another cigarette. “…I think it is loneliness. Or a silence…like, nothing to say. There was no point talking to anybody, and even if there was, who to talk to? My life, it seems, has been quite silent. When I was at home, nobody knew if I was there or not.”

We were prepared, somewhat, to listen to stories of trauma. But we didn’t understand the trauma of invisibility. Where every thought, every desire you ever had was made to disappear, often through violence, and almost always along with your identity. “My mother had a silver jewellery set, which I loved very much….” smiles Rajoshri, “…And if I saw a nice necklace, I’d buy it. I wouldn’t be able to wear it, but I’d buy it. I’d tell my sister that I have bought it for her but I wouldn’t give it to her. I’d keep it with me. Then a few days later my sister would come to me and ask, you said that necklace is for me, where is it?! But I wouldn’t be able to give it. I wouldn’t be able to wear it either, but I couldn’t give it away.” Rajoshri laughs easily at himself, at a world that made him choose. He carries with him a wry amusement and warmth of the wise, something that made him start Swikriti in Kolkata, a space for ‘acceptance’, literally. “You can use many terms: LGBTQ, anything from A to Z…. Basically, by ‘people like us’ I mean those who are not within this gender stereotype. Those who are much more fluid, who can think of themselves from outside the box. I don’t think I belong to a box because biologically I’m a male but, sometimes, I don’t feel like or identify as a male.”

Rups says Rups is a temporary name, a transition name if you will, to commemorate the most important transition of his life. “I’ve never felt like a woman,” he says, with a confidence of someone who has said it before, often to himself. “In Class IX and X when there were these get-togethers, I was always asked that why do you live like this? Dress like this? So, I used to say, because I feel like this. But nobody took me seriously. They used to laugh and say that listen, you’re talking rubbish. You will just have to live like a girl. And then I said, see, one day I will become a man and show you. Not to prove it to them, but for myself. And that day will definitely come.” Rups took us to a stormy Juhu beach where we ate wind-swept golas discussing how Rups thought Salman Khan was a perfect man. And how one had to look for role-models wherever one could find them. It was a matter of survival. “I had a trans friend who tried to commit suicide at home. And I said to myself, that no, I won’t do that. That’s a wrong step. After that my life has finished… So, I thought if I finish my education, get a job, I can then become a man. Stand on my own two feet. Without anybody’s help. So, I knew I had to just focus on my goal, not pay attention to anybody’s taunts….”

We were prepared, somewhat, to understand the daily violence middle-class values wrecked, but we hadn’t calculated the massive human cost of keeping a hetero-normative society with a limited vision of love and family running. “I still think…each time the phone rings late night…that it’s one more. One more of us has committed suicide,” says Sunil. It was a rare day, during the making of this film, where we didn’t hear of another disappearance, another death. People don’t just become invisible, you know, they are made to vanish.

“Other boys forced me to suck their penis each time I would go to the toilet…” said Debu. She stuck it out. Finished her Masters in History from a university in Kolkata. She did it by leading a dual life, at least one of which was for herself. She said she’s like us to interview in that one. “I have to change myself for society. Because we don’t really have a place for ourselves in the world. And there is no support if I want to be who I am, wear woman’s clothes, and work at a job. Become independent. But everywhere I go, they say, ‘be strong, stand up like a man, behave like a man’.” Debu teaches Mathematics and History to her neighbourhood kids, and has been to one job interview after another looking for something more permanent. “…If I dress up like this and go somewhere, I won’t get a job interview. Because I tried, and what they say is that you have to follow another line. You are eunuchs, you have to dance at weddings and childbirths. That’s your life. It doesn’t matter how much you study. That is what you’ll have to do.”

Sunil and his partner-in-thought Sumathi thought of something. They said they’ll go to every NGO in Bengaluru and ask them to include just one transgender person in their hiring policy. Just one. They heard a no from each one of them. We asked our friends. Do you have any transgendered person in your office? No? How about your school? Your college? Do you remember? Nobody really did. We looked at hiring policies of major multinationals. They are all LGBT-friendly. We asked them if they had any LGBTQ representation in their India offices. They said no.

“See, people say people say ‘dropout’ no? It’s pushing out. Because you don’t drop out. You are pushed out,” says Rituparna. “Because of the systems, regulations, curriculum, they’ve left school. And then, the big question is, now what? Where do they go? Has anybody thought about it? Do people who work with employability, considered the employability scenario of trans people who are pushed out of school?”

We travelled India, searching for footprints systematically wiped out. Each story altered us; how we understood our bodies, how we understood our world. We kept thinking we were in a warzone, where an erased history tries to show itself in valiant bursts, for those who are looking, for those who know how limited, how dangerous our worldview is. Rajoshri took us to Shobhabazaar Rajbari, a massive royal courtyard that marks the oldest Durga Puja in Kolkata, where the kotis come each year to celebrate. “When you look at this place you realize so much history has happened here. But we are also part of history, no? Our movement is also a part of history,” he said, looking straight into the sun. This, then, is a small piece of Indian history, and yesterday was its landmark day. Hope it encourages us all to change our textbooks.

 

Bioscope: Non-Binary Conversations on Gender and Education is a 40-minute documentary that looks at the transgender experience within and outside the Indian education system. Produced by Nirantar, Centre of Gender and Education

Directed by Samreen Farooqui and Shabani Hassanwalia