CHENNAI: Stories of couples who commit suicide are aplenty. When we say couples, we are sure many of you assumed they were heterosexual. ‘Why should love blossom only between a man and a woman?’ In a bid to probe this question further, Malini Jeevarathnam made a documentary, Ladies and Gentlewomen, which explores lesbian relationships through a narrative that focuses on sexuality, attraction, acceptance, rejection, loving in secrecy and more. The director who has already bagged three awards for the documentary is ecstatic about its screening in the upcoming ‘Reel Desires — Chennai International
Queer Film Festival’.
Last year, around 17 people from the LGBTQIA+ community in the city died; some committed suicide and several others were honour killings. It was while researching about these suicides that an idea struck Malini. “News of all these suicides had affected me...especially when they were often covered as ‘accidents’. I had slept while reading these articles and I had a dream…of two women, holding hands and hanging to death from a tree. It felt as though there was blood all around me…I woke up and broke down,” recalls Malini.
That dream was instrumental in her helming a documentary on that hush-hush theme. From dialogues ranging from Avala nee to Ava vera madhiri (derogatory and mocking comments often passed at women who are gay) doing the rounds in our society, it often becomes difficult for youngsters to communicate their sexuality to their friends and family. “People should view body, gender and sexuality as a science and not judge them on the basis of culture. When we deify and call something pure, we tend to put something else down and label it as impure,” she points out.
There could be a whole generation who moved on without understanding their gender and sexuality simply because they were not given the freedom to think for themselves. “Some elders in our families could be gay or lesbian. But, they wouldn’t have had the chance to think about it. If the so called ‘modern’ society doesn’t give space to people from LGBTQIA+, imagine how the previous generations must have been!”
Directing a movie on lesbian relationships was not easy for Malini. “I was told that I would be labelled as a ‘lesbian filmmaker’. But, I don’t see anything wrong in that. In the initial phase, no one agreed to do the film — the cameraman, the editor and so on. But, finally I am glad I was able to start work with a wonderful and supportive team,” she reminisces.
Malini brings forth different standpoints in the documentary by talking to journalists, activists, lawyers and even the public. Talking about interviewing men from the public about the issue, she recalls how some suggested that ‘lesbian women use men instead of sex toys’. “‘When there are men, why do women want to go to another woman?’ asked some while, a few said ‘Anyway they are going to use sex toys, so why not use men’. This is public perception, predominantly,” she rues.
She opines that social conditioning which suggests that women are solely made for the pleasure of men, should change.
“Acceptance of lesbianism is directly linked with feminism…but, unfortunately, most think of it as an alien concept. But, lesbianism is prevalent everywhere, even in smaller cities,” she avers. As part of research for her documentary, Malini had met over 80 lesbian women from different places in Tamil Nadu like Madurai, Salem, Dindigul, Pudukkottai and Coimbatore, but none of them were ready to speak in front of the camera. “It showed how much the society had suppressed them as minorities. Out of the 85 women I spoke to, there were renowned names from different fields as well. But, nobody wanted to reveal their identity,” explains the 26-year-old.
For Malini, her writing and her art are weapons to bring about a change in society. Has she achieved it through this documentary? “I wouldn’t say I have brought in a revolution but, after it was screened in the recent Chennai Rainbow Festival, a few women I had met for the documentary told me that they regretted not appearing on screen. They said they wanted to show it to their parents. That’s a positive start,” she smiles.
So, is a feature film on the cards? “Definitely! It will be about lesbianism — about a reincarnation story, put in a humorous way. But, I don’t know if the film would ever ‘come out’…considering the current scenario,” she sighs.
‘Ladies and Gentlewomen’ will be screened on July 30 at Goethe-Institut -Max Mueller Bhavan. For details, visit: http://www.ciqff.org