The first thing I notice is the white. White walls, white ceiling, white floor. The word aesthetic comes to my mind as I look around Godrej India Culture Lab, the venue for, fittingly, Queer Aesthetics Now.
The second thing that I notice is the colours. It’s the people who bring the colour to Pride, balancing out the white. Around me, everyone looks absolutely gorgeous, shining brightly, radiating confidence. There is a sense of comfort amongst them that I warm up to quickly. It’s a safe space, a no-judgment zone. I immediately decide that I want to be friends with each and every person at the event.
As I walk further, a row of mannequins catches my attention. It’s impossible to miss, really. Every mannequin is dressed beautifully. My eyes widen, and I marvel at how attractive an inanimate object can look, with all the hard work put in by the designers. I take my time, slowly looking at each mannequin. The first is a black flowing gown of sorts. It is sleeveless and leaves the torso bare, as Lord Shiva does. The second is called ‘Ze-The New Me.’ The designer uses ‘ze’ as the gender-neutral pronoun. According to the designer, ‘the flowing grey ensemble seeks to illuminate the very fluidity of gender while its impressive length points towards the long road to be taken in the direction of the triumph of the queer community.’
The third mannequin that catches my eye is dressed in a colourful jumpsuit, colours clashing and mixing together. It is hand embroidered and shows two gender-neutral faces seen in a liplock. Fashion designing is an art, I realize. It is a product of several thoughts and fantasies, each thought hidden as a colour or symbol. The next installation is a short white top, covered by a translucent long white top. It is called ‘Otherness’, and is an attempt at the reclamation of identity through the abstraction of gender. Then, there is more colour, and my eyes land on the next installation, titled ‘Love is Too Beautiful to be Hidden Behind a Cage.’ It is bright, practically glittering, refusing to fit in, to be trampled upon by society. I find myself wishing I could wear it, feel the power that it represents. The last piece ‘I Am’ is a sheer black top, a long black embroidered jacket with loose pants. The designers believe in an inclusive and comfortable fashion, driven by the logic that if gender norms and labels are irrelevant in defining oneself, they shouldn’t influence the visual representation of who we ought to be either. I find it hard to detach myself from the mannequin, but in the end, I manage to do it, and head towards the auditorium, unaware that my mind is about to be blown completely.
We start with the movie Naked Wheels, a documentary revolving around a diverse group of people embarking on a journey in a truck. They talk about the hardships faced by them, as members of the trans community and otherwise. They hope for a better society, where they can be themselves and happy. The movie leaves me feeling enraged because there is still so much to be done, to make us a free, loving society.
The next movie Physicality is based on two trans women living together. One of them wants to be a sub-inspector. The movie highlights her struggle as she devotes her life to her training, fights a case and eventually gets selected to be a sub-inspector, only to be mocked by one of her friends who claims that she made sure she’d be put in the female category, only so she could get selected.
The third movie Aarsa is about a peon boy who loves watching a professional Kathak dancer prepare her students for a performance. He finds himself spellbound as he looks at her, and tries to imitate the grace with which she moves. The movie shows the completely different reactions of two conditioned women who see the same boy in the same dress. Their reactions make all the difference in the world.
The audience, by this time, is completely silent and staring at the screen with an indescribable intensity. I too am staring at the screen, occasionally losing myself as I imagine a world where acceptance is not something one has to fight for. I know that if I were to open my mouth, no words would come out.
We move on to Devi, an unconventional love story between a maid, Devi, who works in a huge house, and the lady, Tara, who lives there with her mother. The story ends in heartbreak, with the mother seeing the two together, and Devi being fired. It leaves me feeling melancholic for some reason, and the next movie Wajood only adds on to that sorrow, as we see a trans woman struggle with her love for an auto-rickshaw driver.
“We’re transgender,” her friend tells her, “We don’t get to be in love.”
Shaken and broken, the woman notices the hostility of the world towards her, until one man changes her life with a single question: “How does being transgender make you less beautiful?”
The last movie Maacher Jhol, which literally translates to fish curry, is an animated movie about Lalit, who wants to come out to his family. In order to seek acceptance, he cooks the Bengali dish Maacher Jhol while listening to a famous cooking show on the radio. The film is made up of 7500+ drawings and is unbelievably soothing and beautiful and a perfect end to the series.
The audience seems to blink collectively when the movies are over. Funnily, even though the movies were about the real world, it felt weird to reconcile and strange to be back in the real world. however, what I find relieving is the fact that there are many conversations happening now and the dream of a world which is accepting and where no one will harm or hurt each other for being who they seem plausible.
Ah! In the end, there was a delicious rainbow cake, a perfect cherry to top this thought-provoking fabulous day.