CHENNAI: Born in Paramakudi, I came to Chennai about 14 years ago to study. Since then, life has taken several swirling turns. Although I only confronted my identity when I became an adult, the nuances of emotions associated with being non-binary and gender-fluid have always marked my life. I did not have the conscience to recognize it.
So, I continued to live with the label that the world had given me “a woman”. In college, when I felt attracted to women, I thought it came from worry, care, and love. I didn’t recognize the underlying emotional and physical needs that came with it. And when I did, I was afraid to express it.
However, when I started working with Anna, director PA Ranjith (as AD in Madras), through her ideologies and commentary, I began to unravel the politics behind the lives of marginalized communities, the genres and identities. Through ongoing interactions with fellow LGBTQIA + activists and comrades, I was able to realize my identity, my rights, and muster the courage to come out as a queer individual (now a gender nonconforming person).
Stories on screen
However, I observed how homosexuality was always impaired and witnessing hatred and injustice prompted me to make a documentary about lesbian life in India. When I shared the idea, no one, not even friends, helped me. Technicians and artists also refused. For someone who had previously been rejected by family, friends and society, rejection also appeared in my career quest. But life always has a way of telling you not to give up hope and for me it came in the form of Ranjith anna.
When he offered to produce my documentary, my dreams came true. I have collaborated with people like Justin Prabhakaran (music composer) and other wonderful technicians, who shared similar ideologies and this laid the foundation for my now award-winning documentary, Ladies and Gentlemen (2017) and a in a way, my future activities too. . Today, the film has touched different people and places, initiating conversations about life beyond the heteronormative.
I see this act, where a filmmaker, who has been an active voice for an oppressed and marginalized community, not only welcomes someone from another oppressed community into the industry, but also guides them to a space that is rightfully theirs. as a rebellious political revolution. If I reach the position where Anna is or go beyond, I want to give the same help to another Malini, someone who is on the fringes, looking for this opportunity. What he did was a subtle act to allow the oppressed to reclaim their space. Social changes are mostly intersectional and this is one of them. Ella politique-leyum, innoru politique kaana viduthalai iruku (In all politics, there is freedom for the other). The search for this freedom and the development of the movement can positively culminate when communities come together.
Activism through art
History plays an important role in documenting lives. But in the case of people with marginalized gender and sexual identities, history has been conveniently erased, destroyed and sadly forgotten. Queer people in (most) movies and shows are portrayed only as caricatures and as characters with no individual identity; more often in the context of cishet stories or cishet stories that are (pathetically) queered. I am someone who trusts in the power of film as a tool for change.
Documenting queer lives, of the oppressed in various mediums in the most authentic way, is important. I’m often asked ‘Why do you always focus on queer movies, Malini? Why can’t you make a straight movie? Who Said I Can’t? I can make a film about the community cishet through the prism of a homosexual – about their relationships, how they show affection, how they hurt. Society should have a balance of all kinds of voices and narratives.
Relationships between queer people are different and to coat it with treatment similar to cishet relationships is nothing but a flaw on the part of the creative. I don’t want to make the same mistakes as my stingy counterparts and make films without empathy. I was never ready to give up on my dreams. There has been oppression, mockery, ostracism, unsolicited stares and judgments in the workplace. Having a comfortable workspace, where safety, dignity and security reign is the fundamental right of every individual.
It will make many dreams come true. While the general atmosphere in the industry was not so conducive, now the supporting hands and voices for change are getting louder. People become allies. This small but important change gives me peace that future generations will have a welcoming space in the film industry and greater opportunities to tell stories of those of our ilk and beyond.
(As said to Roshne Balasubramanian)
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