On the second day of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, 23 films lit up viewers’ screens, but two of these dazzled.
‘My brother is a Mermaid’, a film made by Alfie Dale in collaboration with UK based organisation Mermaids uses magic realism and a mermaid analogy for Kuda’s understanding of their older sibling coming out as transgender. Your heart breaks when you realise Kuda finds it easier to believe that Kai is a mermaid. The thought of Kai being trans doesn’t even cross Kuda’s mind, unaware of trans existence.
In the other instance, of the film ‘Mall’, the analogy of the mermaid resurfaces. Didi is quite taken with a mermaid doll on the ‘Girls Section’ of the toys aisle, but even his short existence has trained him to know, it’s not what is expected of him. The magic realism of ‘My brother is a Mermaid’ and the monochrome colouring of ‘Mall’ show us what it is like to be a child in a prejudiced world- filled with gender roles and teachings that are not tailored to our individual identities.
My brother is a Mermaid (International Narrative Shorts Competition Part-1)
Director: Alfie Dale
Writer: Alfie Dale in collaboration with Mermaids UK
Seven year old Kuda watches Kai paint their nails, and how happy this small act makes them, not understanding why Kai gets called slurs and bullied for it.
‘My brother is a Mermaid’ is a seven-year-old’s understanding of their older sibling coming out as transgender. Alfie Dale -cis, himself- creates a story of mermaids, prejudice, acceptance and love, in collaboration with Mermaids -a trans charity in the UK- ensuring nuanced and sensitive potrayal of trans experience by Cameron Maydale, a trans actor.
The blues in the film’s colour palette complement Kai and Kuda’s world of surfing and mermaids in a coastal town. Every day Kai faces a barrage of insult, assault and invalidation from the small people in their small town, but in those moments of heartbreak Kuda is with them. The warmth and acceptance that flows between the two siblings eclipses all and is at the forefront of the film.
The film starts with Kai telling Kuda a story- of a mermaid who comes to land, only for the land to become hostile and lonely for the mermaid.
In the end, it is Kuda’s love and loyalty that saves the land from becoming a lonely place for Kai.
‘My brother is a Mermaid’ leaves you with some of its warmth, even as your screen goes dark and the credits start to roll.
Mall (Student Shorts Competition Part-1)
Director: Jerry Hoffmann
Writer: Florens Huhn
Jerry Hoffmann’s silent short about constant reinforcement of gender roles on children, is excellent in its non-assumption of Didi’s sexuality when he longs for a mermaid doll, and ends very differently than you would have thought. The film starts and immediately the scene is set.
In the aisle of a shopping mall, Didi watches his older and younger brother play-fight, their father lose patience and smack the top of his older brother’s head.
Shot in monochrome, devoid of either the pink or blue enforced on children, as the film reaches its middle, Didi strays from his assigned colour.
In the end, Didi’s father does something strange, making a U-turn, literal and metaphorical, to reunite Didi with his heart’s wish.
If you don’t watch closely, you miss what isn’t explicit. Didi’s character was written as fat, but none of the German agencies that Hoffmann reached out to, had fat child actors on contract. By pure luck Hoffmann saw the boy who plays Didi in a park. This effort to stay true to the script is only one part of Mall’s larger charm.
The absence of dialogue heightens the narrative’s emotive power and along with Didi, you too go on the emotional rollercoaster, that is a trip to the mall.
The two movies exemplify how absorbent a child is of their environment, that violence and prejudice is just as easily learnt as acceptance and love, how any deviation from white, cis, heteronormativity is thought to be deviant, if no other example is seen, heard or read about.