‘Boxed’ challenges the gender binary myth, profiles intersections within the trans community and also talks about their vehement opposition toward the Trans Bill of 2019. We spoke to directors Sameeksha Zia and Sumit Raina about ‘Boxed’, and how it came to be.
Q. The subject matter ‘Boxed’ covers seems to span across a long timeline, how did the documentary progress as the months went by?
We shot across a span of 7-8 months last year. The initial idea was to make a short fiction film exploring the subject of gender. But with the movement against the Transgender Persons Bill gathering momentum, and looking at the complexity and vastness of the subject of gender, it became difficult for us to gather our thoughts into a short film. That’s how the idea of a documentary came to be. With this documentary most of our time went into research, to help us stay clear of stereotypes, and not end up offering lazy commentary.
Although we must admit that in the initial stages of the film, be it scripting or even the actual shoot, we placed unnecessary emphasis on the medicalization aspect of gender identity. Only after talking to and being corrected by people along the filming process, we began to look at gender through multiple socio-cultural lenses. Hopefully, that’s evident in the film too. We realised research is not enough. One needs to go out there, talk to the relevant people, and make the film with them as a collaborative effort. There have been many small but impactful changes that we made throughout. For example, many cisgender people use the term ‘trans’ or ‘transgender’ as a noun, and not as an adjective. We often hear someone say ‘she is transgender’ as opposed to ‘she is a trans woman’. We learnt that using the term ‘transgender’ as a noun makes a person’s whole identity about their gender. While a person’s gender identity is an inherent and personal aspect, it is not the only one.
Q. Being cisgendered yourselves, ‘Boxed’ is a collaborative effort with Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti (THITS), how did the association begin?
It was Karthik Bittu for us, right since the time when the idea of this film was conceived, he helped with contacting people from the trans community, research, and scripting. It was only because of Bittu that people from the community were willing to talk to us, because there has been a history of misrepresentation and adventurism shown by cisgender people wanting to write or talk about trans people.
We came in touch with THITS through Bittu and then we met more people like Vyjayanti, Rachana, Kiran Raj, Kiran Naik and many others, who not only accepted to be a part of this film, but also put in time and effort to introduce us to more people within the community. We were clear right from the start, due to our inherent biases as cis people, this could only be a collaborative effort.
Q. Is ‘Boxed’ the first project for GAASH? What were your expectations and have they been met, or were there any surprises?
Yes, ‘Boxed’ is the first project for GAASH. We have been very thrilled seeing the response that we got from the people who have watched the documentary. We never expected it to make a personal impact on so many people. Many people have found the content very accessible, and that’s what we intended to do. We are particularly happy with the response we got from the community itself. This being our first feature length film, our biggest fear was a shallow portrayal of the complex subject we were dealing with, thankfully the response has been good so far.
Q. How has the pandemic affected GAASH? What’s next?
Fortunately, not much. We weren’t planning to shoot or do any field work during this time, so the pandemic has not affected work. At present, it’s just the two of us running GAASH and we are doing all the work from home. We recently concluded a two month long fundraising campaign to support trans people, people with disability and people living with HIV in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Telangana. This was done with the help of multiple unfunded grassroots collectives.
We will definitely be making more films but the idea is to not just restrict ourselves to films. We plan to cover a range of subjects in different media like music, podcasts etc., and collaborate with many people on the way. We will be coming up soon with a project that gives us a chance to interact with our audience. All the details will be posted on our Instagram gaash.is.here. Stay tuned!
You can now watch ‘Boxed’ below.
‘Boxed’ was screened as part of Vikalp@Prithvi’s weekly online screenings-cum-Q&A, started during the lockdown period.
‘Vikalp: Films for Freedom’ was born as a parallel film festival in the face of censorship imposed on documentary filmmakers during the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) 2004.
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