Filmmaker recounts experience of shooting documentary on same-sex love in Nandigram
Mumbai, 7 February
For a place that was instrumental in producing the cry for paribartan (change) in West Bengal, Nandigram remains deeply ensconced in the clutches of discrimination against those supporting same-sex love. So much so that when Debalina, a Kolkata-based filmmaker, visited the village to shoot a documentary on two girls who were in love with each other and had killed themselves, she was harassed and heckled out of the village.
"Had there been a man in my place, the villagers would have beaten him to pulp," says Debalina, recalling her second visit to Nandigram in December 2011. Her film, Ebong Bewarish (…and The Unclaimed), was screened as part of the Mumbai International Film Festival today.
The two girls in question, Swapna and Sucheta, had killed themselves in February 2011. Debalina visited the village shortly after to document the proceedings of a fact-finding team instituted by Sappho for Equality, a Kolkata-based support group for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
"During that visit, I realised everyone was happy with the girls’ death. Even their parents seemed relieved," she says.
A local policeman told her that the girls’ bodies had been lying unclaimed at the mortuary. Debalina decided she would go back to the village and make a film on the subject. The policeman ~ she refers to him as ‘good police’ ~ gave her the suicide note of one of the girls, but advised her to come back after the Assembly elections.
"When I went back that December, I was aghast. Not only were the villagers hostile, the officer in-charge (OC) called me to the police station and harassed me. For the 30-40 minutes that I spent there, cops and bikers trailed me, forcing me to leave," she says.
Unable to shoot on location, she anchored the film around four persons who read out parts of the suicide letter on camera. “These persons identified themselves outside the normative sexual frame, and had, at some point, seriously considered ending their lives. I realised I could tell Swapna and Sucheta’s story only through them,” she says.
The film was completed in December 2012, but Debalina has not been able to take it to Nandigram, or show it to Sucheta and Swapna’s families.
The ‘good police’ ~ the only person who had lent her some support in Nandigram ~ advised her against travelling to the village. Says Debalina, “Whenever I’d mention about taking the film there, he would ask, ‘Why do you want to invite volatility?’’.
Perhaps, it was sound advice, for Swapna and Sucheta’s bodies were cremated as ‘unclaimed’. This, even though the police approached their families and asked them to claim the bodies, offering to pay for their last rites, fearing poverty was holding the families back from claiming the bodies.
The audience at MIFF was moved by the film, but the girls’ families and Nandigram continue to live in darkness and denial. No wave of paribartan, it seems, can change some deep-set attitudes of discrimination.