Produced by the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India
2007, 56 mins, Tamil with English subtitles
Camera: KP Jayasankar, Script, Editing, Sound Design: Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar
What does it mean to cross that line which sharply divides us on the basis of gender? To free oneself of the socially constructed onus of being male? Is there life beyond a hetero-normative family?
Set in Tamilnadu, India, ‘Our Family’ brings together excerpts from Nirvanam, a one person performance, by Pritham K. Chakravarthy and a family of three generations of trans-gendered female subjects. Aasha, Seetha and Dhana, who are bound together by ties of adoption, belong to the community called Aravanis (aka Hijras, in some parts of India). Aasha Bharathi, the grandmother, is the president of the Tamilnadu Aravanigal Association, Chennai. Seetha, the daughter lives with her male partner Selvam, in Coimbatore. Dhana, Seetha’s adopted daughter also lives with her and shuttles between her adopted and her natal families.
The film juxtaposes the ‘normality’ of their existence with the dark and powerful narrative by Pritham- ‘Nirvanam’; Nirvanam (Liberation) refers to the act of liberating oneself from the male body and transforming oneself to a female. This narrative bears witness to the tumultuous journey towards a reinvented selfhood, a journey fraught with violence, exploitation, affection and courage. The pains, pleasures and dilemmas of becoming the ‘other’ is the motif of the film. Weaving together performance, life histories and everyday life, it problematises the divides between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Jury’s Citation: ” Our Family for its compassionate and sensitive portrayal of the third sex – their bonding and their aspirations. The film traces their roots sourced from mythology combined with a mesmerizing one-person performance of the traumas and stigma experienced by their community”
Jury’s Citation: “For an innovative narrative that gives ‘voice’ to a marginalized people and ‘moments of truth’ that sensitize its viewers.”
Jury’s Citation: “For innovative and subtle sound design, with an interesting use of music.”
Jury’s Citation: “For the lyrically quiet, unobtrusive and sensitive pacing of the
Screening Calendar (click here)
About the Directors
Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar are Professors at the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Monteiro has a Masters degree in Economics and a Ph.D. in Sociology. Jayasankar has an M.A. in German language and a Ph.D. in Humanities and Social Sciences. Both of them are involved in media production, teaching and research. A presiding thematic of much of their work has been a problematising of notions of self and the other, of normality and deviance, of the local and the global, through the exploration of diverse narratives and rituals. These range from the stories and paintings of indigenous peoples to the poetry of prison inmates. Jointly they have won twenty two national and international awards for their films. These include the Prix Futura Berlin 1995 Asia Prize for Identity- The Construction of Selfhood, a Special Mention of the Jury at MIFF `96 for Kahankar: Ahankar, the Certificate of Merit at MIFF `98 and Best Innovation, Astra Film Festival 1998, Sibiu, Romania for YCP 1997 and the Best documentary award at the IV Three Continents International Festival of Documentaries 2005, Venezuela, for SheWrite. Their most recent awards are the Special Jury Award at the Signs 2007 Festival, held in Thiruvananthapuram, Certificate of Merit, Mumbai International Film Festival 2008, Indian Documentary Producers Associuation (IDPA) Gold for Best Sound Design, Gold for Best Script and Silver for Editing for the film Our Family. Vibgyor Film Festival, Kerala and Bangalore Film Society have organised retrospectives of their work in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
They have several papers in the area of media and cultural studies and have contributed to scholarly journals such as Cultural Studies. They are both recipients of the Howard Thomas Memorial Fellowship in Media Studies, and have been attached to Goldsmith’s College, London and the University of Western Sydney. Monteiro has been awarded a Fulbright visiting lecturer fellowship for 2006-07 at the University of California, Berkeley. They also serve as visiting faculty to several leading media and design institutions in India and abroad. They are both actively involved in ‘Vikalp‘ and ‘Films for Freedom’, which are collectives of documentary filmmakers campaigning for freedom of expression. They are also associated with various media and voluntary organisations.
Performance and Interviews
Editing, Sound Design and Subtitles
Camera and Graphics
K. P. Jayasankar
Script and Direction
K. P. Jayasankar
Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Mumbai 400 088, India
Telephone: +91 22 25563290 Fax: +91 22 2556 2912
Unlocking inner prisons
Documentary filmmakers Jayansankar & Anjali Monteiro in conversation with Yamini Vijayan
Jan 18, 2009
Filmmaking means the world to us,” exclaim K P Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro, who are professors at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai. “Where else do you learn so many things and meet so many interesting people?” Having worked together for more than two decades as partners, they attempt at going beyond debates about form and content and look at the politics of representation as well as social issues. Their films have been screened in film festivals across the world and have won many awards.
Excerpts from an interview:
The issues that you have dealt with in your films are varied, ranging from notions of identity to conflict resolution to sexuality. But is there any common thread running through all of them that pulls you towards these issues?
Documentary films are invariably about ‘them’ made by ‘us’ for consumption by ‘us’. The subjects of these films tend to be constructed as a ‘less powerful other’, whose difference from ‘us’ make us appear as ‘normal’. Audiences generally use these texts to assert their ‘normality’ too: “We are not like them, we are more fortunate, more privileged, poor them, how cute…” Our project has been to problematise and subvert the ‘normal’.
All our films bear witness to this concern. One line that we always carry in our heads comes from Harrison, a Nigerian prison poet from our film YCP 1997 (set in Yerwada Central Prison in 1997). He asked us a startling question: “Do you think you are free?” and answered it with an even more startling answer: “It is only a matter of the size of the prison — we live in smaller prisons and you, in larger…” Most of our films try to look at the connections between these ‘prisons’.
The dynamics between the core team plays a significant role in the way the film shapes up. How does it work?
We have worked together as partners and colleagues for over two decades and call ourselves ‘self-learning’ filmmakers. We are very different in our personalities, yet have similar ideological concerns.
Does it help that there is a man’s and woman’s point of view infused in the entire process? Or does it lead to creative clashes?
One of us is the right brain, the other the left! This sometimes helps us take a more ‘balanced’ view and help us negotiate interesting ‘creative clashes’(smiles). We are not sure whether this is ‘gendered’, because there are women who are male-centric and men, who are ‘feminist’.
In your film ‘Our Family’ which is about the ‘Hijra’ community of Tamil Nadu, the subjects share a lot of personal details. How does a filmmaker establish this sort of comfort level with the subjects?
We do spend time with our subjects, share our work and concerns with them and attempt to portray their life with dignity. When we went to meet some inmates who were poets in YCP, one of them asked us whether we have worked with prisoners before. When we said no, he was surprised — “How come that you are so comfortable with us?” He expected us (the ‘law-abiding’ and hence ‘normal’) to look at them (‘criminal’ and hence ‘deviant’) differently. We are wary being predatory or invasive and would not commit any act that would not conform to the question “Would we like ourselves to be represented that way?” If the answer is ‘no’, we desist from such practices.
Do you think your films have changed the lives of the subjects in your films?
The film making encounter certainly changes both the filmmaker and his/her subjects. We have one dramatic story of how one of our prison poets got released from prison after our film was made, due to our attempts to push his case for trial while another prisoner used the film in his mercy petition and was released subsequently. Even if there are no such dramatic ‘results’, we always hope that the encounter leaves our subjects as much enriched and energised as it leaves us.
You have used different forms of art like poetry, music, paintings, theatre in your films. How do you think this adds to the experience of a film?
Film fortunately, as an art form of our times, is an ensemble of many things — “shoes and ships and sealing wax…” (Lewis Carroll). We feel that all these elements add to the richness of the film and many layers and textures. They also help us liberate documentary film from the odious embrace of ‘reality’ and ‘neutrality’.
Poetry has this uncanny ability to take ordinary words and ‘re-present’ them, thereby inviting us to the experience of the word rather than its literal meaning. Poetry thus opens windows to the secret life that these words lead behind our backs. Combining it with music and paintings is electrifying.
Do you think it is essential for filmmakers to watch other films to expand their ideas and understand cinema?
The best training that we have go as self-learning filmmakers is from watching films. Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Aravindan, Mani Kaul, Dziga Vertov — these filmmakers have been a great source of inspiration for us. The contemporary Indian documentary scene in India is very exciting and we do learn a lot from watching the work of our peers.
What are you working on currently?
We currently working on two projects. One of them is the documentation of the music of the marginalised in Kutch in Gujarat, in collaboration with the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan (KMVS). The other one is a film on gender and performance, which is in a very early stage of conceptualisation.
Saturday, Apr 19, 2008
The film, Our Family, in its free-flowing narrative portrays three generations of trans-genderedwomen
FAMILY OF FOUR The film subverts popular notions of the State, community and family in the patriarchal world
In a radical alternative to notions of the State, community and family, filmmakers Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, professors at the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai attempt to change our notion of the family. Their film, “Our Family”, subverts all ideas of the family whether they are patriarchal, biological or heterosexual, to give it new dimensions and dynamics.The film, set in Tamil Nadu, sways between the lives of the family of three generations of three extraordinary trans-gendered women – Aasha, Seetha and Dhana and their friend, Pritham K. Chakravarthy who used the aesthetic form of dance to craft out the passage of Aravanis. Pritham dramatically re-enacts her poignant and exemplary journey to becoming a trans-gender. Her expressions, gestures and words to recreate the pain and joy to discovering the gendered self in this polarised world of male and female, are visually stimulating.
The use of the ‘feminine’ mirror can be seen as a metaphor of the many layers of this journey from masculinity to femininity and also reflects the conflicts between the gendered selves at the point of Nirvanam or liberation. When Dhana says that Nirvanam for her means that she can no longer choose to wear male clothes at midnight and walk on the streets at midnight, and that she can’t do the same as a female, mirrors the dilemmas that both men and women face when boxed and viewed in fixed, stereotypical roles. What was exhilarating was the natural formation of the unconventional family, a family that defied blood and heterosexual ties and when Aasha Bharathi, president of the Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Association in Chennai says that hers is a small family of four, it also brings the debate of family planning and reproduction as forced versus natural.
In a free-flowing multiple narrative, the film breezes through as an engaging and thought-provoking glimpse that feelings of belonging, family and community are transcendental.
What is commendable is definitely the careful portrayal of the community, without any hints of exoticism.
“Our Family” is a well-edited movie, without much technical detailing. It also takes you to the Pal Utru Vizha or the 40th day of celebration of Nirvanam, with meanings of alternative terms typing out on the screen.
The end, which sits through a discussion of what this closed-knit community requests from society, is very simple – that we see them as human beings.
Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar will be present at the Vikalp-Films for Freedom screening of “Our Family” which was awarded the certificate of merit and special mention at the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF 2008), on April 19, 6.30 p.m. at Nani Cinematheque, Centre for Film and Drama, 5th floor, Sona Towers, 71 Millers Road. For more information on the movie, visit http://ourfamily2007. wordpress.com AYESHA MATTHAN
We are family
Posted online: Tuesday , October 23, 2007 at 12:00:00
Mumbai, October 22 We have seen them begging at traffic signals, clad in bright saris with flowers in their hair while garish makeup hides their morning stubble. Now, we have the chance to get an intimate peep into the family of the Aravani, aka Hijra community.
Our Family, a 56-minute Tamil (with English subtitles) documentary, written and directed by K P Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro, premiers at a Vikalp screening this Friday at Bhupesh Gupta Bhawan. It elucidates what it means to free oneself of the social construct of being male and explores life beyond a hetero-normative family.
Set in Tamil Nadu, the film brings together excerpts from Nirvanam, (Liberation) a one-person performance, by Pritham K Chakravarthy and a family of three generations of trans-gendered females—Aasha, Seetha and Dhana, who are bound together by ties of adoption. We see them cutting a birthday cake, visiting the temple, playing seven stones and talking about their dreams.
Aasha Bharathi, is the president of the Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Association, Chennai. Seetha, her adopted daughter, lives with her male partner Selvam, in Coimbatore. Dhana, the youngest and the most starry-eyed, is Seetha’s adopted daughter, who shuttles between her adopted and natal families. “The local residents have accepted Seetha as one of them. We had a good rapport with them, so when we shot in public spaces there were no issues,” says Jayasankar, who along with Montero has made 30-odd documentaries that are “off the beaten track”.
“We decided to make the film when we met Aasha through Pritham, who is our friend. We wanted to do it as a collaborative project, not one that dictated terms to them,” says Monteiro.
The film juxtaposes the ‘normality’ of their existence with the dark and powerful narrative by Pritham, a well-known dramatist in Tamil Nadu. Nirvanam quotes an incident from the Mahabharat where Lord Krishna marries and sacrifices an Aravani on the eve of the battle with the Kauravas. This ensures the Pandavas’ success on the battlefield: a symbol of the violence and exploitation faced by Aravanis.
“The film, is funded by TISS and made on a shoestring budget ,” says Monteiro. The distribution of the film, costing Rs 400, would be done through NGOs and narrowcast avenues.
Mumbai: October 27, 2007
Examines life in a transexual family
FILM: OUR FAMILY
RATING: * * * *
DIRECTORS: KP Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro
Even as a transsexual up north fights for his rights to enter a place of worship, ‘Our Family’ , a gritty documentary film on three transgendered people has just premiered in Mumbai.
Produced by the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, “Our Family” is the newest film from KP Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro, a talented husband and wife team who combine academia with activism and film-making. Jointly, they have won thirteen national and international awards for their films.
Jayasankar and Monteiro made this 56-minute long film in Tamil with English subtitles. As in most of their previous films, Jayasankar wielded the camera, sharing the Scripting, Editing, and Sound Design credits with Monteiro. Set in Tamilnadu, the film brings together excerpts from Nirvanam, a one person performance, by Pritham K. Chakravarthy and a family of three generations of trans-gendered females, Aasha, Seetha and Dhana, who are bound together by ties of adoption.
This family belongs to the trans-gendered community called Aravanis (aka Hijras, in some parts of India). Aasha Bharathi, the grandmother, is the president of the Tamilnadu Aravanigal Association, Chennai. Seetha, the daughter lives with her male partner Selvam, in Coimbatore. Dhana, Seetha’s adopted daughter also lives with her and shuttles between her adopted and her natal families. What does it mean to cross that line which sharply divides us on the basis of gender? Is there life beyond a hetero-normative family?
The film juxtaposes the ‘normality’ of their existence with the dark and powerful narrative by Pritham- Nirvanam in a referral to the act of liberating oneself from the male body and transforming oneself to a female. A presiding theme of much of Monteiro and Jayasankar’s work has been a problematising of notions of self and the other, of normality and deviance, of the local and the global, through the exploration of diverse narratives and rituals.
These range from the stories and paintings of indigenous peoples to the poetry of prison inmates. Monteiro and Jayasankar’s new film bears witness to the turbulent journey towards a reinvented selfhood, a journey fraught with violence, exploitation, affection and courage. The pain and pleasure of becoming the ‘other’ is the motif of the film. Weaving together performance, life histories and daily living, it underscores the gulf between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’.
Ronita Torcato (email@example.com)
Film focusses on transgender truth
Tuesday, October 30, 2007: (Mumbai):
It’s a community most people ridicule or prefer to keep at arm’s length. But what does it mean to cross the gender divide, to be free of being male as society defines it?
That’s the theme explored in the film Our Family.
A true story about a family of transgender women that unfolds over three generations.
The film’s set in Tamil Nadu and tells the story of Aasha, Seetha and Dhana, who are bound together by ties of adoption.
Aasha is the grandmother, Seetha her adopted daughter and Dhana who is adopted by Seetha and her partner Selvam.
“We wanted to make a film which would question the way people look at the hijras. We wanted to look at the human rights violation, the stigmas and also look at the warmth and celebratory aspect of it,” said Dr Anjali Monteiro, Filmmaker.
The film documents their journey as they discover their sexual identities and progressively blur the lines between themselves and what’s seen as normal social behaviour.
“They become a regular family. So the woman Seetha does the cooking. She does assert herself but in trying to do so she asserts her womanly identity even more, one of the things that struck us was that they were normal but in trying to be normal they had to play out the politics of being normal in some sense,” said KP Jayasankar, Filmmaker.
The film will not release commercially and will remain limited to the festival circuit. Clearly that’s one barrier that will take some time crossing.
|// Sunday, June 14, 2009|
THE SUNDAY TRIBUNE
Slickly edited Our Family documents the journey of three generations of transgender female subjects as they discover their sexual identities and blur the line between themselves and what is seen as normal social behaviour, writes Shoma A. Chatterji
SET in Tamil Nadu, Our Family is a different kind of documentary film that for the first time perhaps puts across a powerful statement on alternative sexuality and on new forms of family.
Our Family explores how all identities are fraught
with equations of power
With a running time of 56 minutes with sub-titles in English, the film raises questions. “We decided to make the film when we met Aasha through our friend Pritham K. Chakravarthy, a transgendered subject, who does a one-person performance called Nirvanam (liberation). We wanted to do it as a collaborative project, not one that dictated terms to them,” says Anjali Monteiro, who has jointly directed the film with her husband Jayasankar.
The film, through the point-of-view and first-person narrations of three generations of transgendered female subjects, unravels the strange story of how these people have knit themselves together into one family.
Aasha, Seetha and Dhana are bound together by ties of adoption. They belong to the Aravani community called ‘hijras’ in some parts of the country. But these three women are not biologically born as eunuchs. They opt to get out of their male bodies because “we are females trapped within the male bodies,” says Pritham, who enacts the experiences of having been gang-raped, having turned into a prostitute to make both ends meet, and finally, to come and settle down in Chennai with a one-woman performance called Nirvana.
Though she is one of the ‘family’ for some intriguing reason, they consider her the only ‘outsider’ and one is not clear why they qualify her like this. Her facial expressions bear the pain of her life, but one can see through the surface pain, the pride that comes across for having been able to make one of the most difficult choices an Indian can make — the right to choose her sex and leave the biological fact of her sex behind her forever.
Asha Bharathi is the ‘grandmother’ of the family. She is also president of the Tamil Nadu Aravnigal Association of Chennai. Seetha, the ‘daughter’ lived with her male partner Selvam in Coimbatore. But sadly, Selvam passed away before the film was publicly screened. He was a young man who understood the needs of his partner completely and did not come in the way of her choices.
Dhana, the youngest, is the adopted daughter of Seetha but her own family has also accepted her choice. So she keeps shuttling between her natural parents and her adoptive one.
The film documents their journey as they discover their sexual identities and progressively blur the lines between themselves and what is seen and interpreted as normal social behaviour.
“They become a regular family. So the woman Seetha does the cooking. She does assert herself but in trying to do so she asserts her womanly identity even more, one of the things that struck us was that they were normal but in trying to be normal they had to play out the politics of being normal in some sense,” said KP Jayasankar.
“The local residents have accepted Seetha as one of them. We had a good rapport with them, so when we shot in public spaces there were no issues,” says Jayasankar, who along with Montero has made 30-odd documentaries that tackle very unusual social issues.
Our Family is produced by the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Jointly, this husband-and-wife pair has won 13 national and international awards for their films. “This film has been very special because it deals with a marginalised, socially oppressed and humiliated community. We wanted to discover for ourselves and consequently for the audience, what it means to cross the gender divide, to be free of being ‘male’ just because the biologically determined birth has decided that one is ‘male.’
“We wanted to make a film which would question the way people look at the hijras. We wanted to look at the human rights violation, the stigmas and also look at the warmth and celebratory aspect of it,” says Monteiro. Our Family has been made as a collaborative project with the subjects, giving them the space to voice their concerns and reflect on the process of becoming an Aravani. It has been made on a shoestring budget.
“We regard the film as a useful device in their struggle to question social stigma and advocate for the rights of Aravanis in Tamil Nadu,” say the directors. The film attempts to bring this offbeat family into the mainstream and make it socially acceptable, throwing up how despite the apparent lack of a power base, the same hierarchy of power that ails patriarchy sustains. The film also explores how all identities are fraught with equations of power. The film has been edited slickly. It takes the viewer to the noted Pal Utru Vizha or the 40th day celebration of Nirvanam, with graphics detailing the meanings of the alternate terms. The film closes on the discussion that boils down to an a fervent appeal from this family and the community they belong to, to look upon them as normal human beings with normal desires and not as genetic freaks.
The camera designedly avoids a voyeuristic gaze and uses ‘their’ stories to raise questions about ‘us’ and our sexualities. The four women, question the straitjacketed sexual identities and preferences society has thrust on its unquestioning masses. Anjalie and Jayasankar have tried to familiarise the unfamiliar, familiarising the unfamiliar: the ‘normality’ of the lives of Aasha, Seetha, Selvam and Dhana question the futility of trying to straitjacket sexual identities and preferences. Our Family subverts all ideas of the family whether they are patriarchal, biological or heterosexual, to give it new dimensions and dynamics.