Sapna of Bizerta Lines rises to the morning sun and puts on a pretty dress before she lights her first cigarette. But before we can learn about her life, the audience has already raised a quizzical eyebrow; her demeanour and dress don't conform to our notions about gender.
A documentary on the life of a transgender persons, Sapna aims to challenge that very line of thought, which manifests itself whenever transgender people cross paths with "the rest of us".
With a voice-over by veteran writer Asif Farrukhi, the documentary explores the life of Sapna (whose name means 'dream'), is poles apart from her nightmarish life. From being mocked by children to getting repulsed from car windows, Sapna's life is underscored by abuse.
No place for 'them'
Sapna has been directed by a Habib University student, Ali Rizvi, who spoke to Images about the need to address issues faced by transgender communities that are considered nature’s curse on mankind:
“Since our childhood, we have seen transgender people begging for alms or people snickering at them. Sadly, the term used for them — hijras — is itself used as a derogatory one to insult a male's 'manhood'."
He added, "In a society where even women are not considered equal, transgender people become even more alienated. I wanted to show that they’re as normal as us and just because they can’t be categorised into two genders doesn’t mean they lack the potential to do wonders.”
A life of isolation
Rizvi's work on the film brought him to the doorstep of transgender people, and he saw first-hand how alienation affects their standard of living. “They need to be empowered economically so they can break the stereotypes associated with them."
"It is ironic that for the past 60 years they didn’t have an identity. Finally, after decades they are trying to get jobs and although the percentage is very low, government offices are hiring transgender persons as well.”
Ali's story about how he met Sapna is gripping.
“I came across Sapna after I met Bindia Rana who also contested elections in 2013. Before that I volunteered at an organisation with deals with sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) and I befriended such members and realised that they were just like us."
Bindia contested independently. She was threatened and her class and identity became an issue. But one inspiring part about her is that she refused to back down. Recently at an event, the community raised a large flag on Independence Day so there is no argument about their patriotism or loyalty.”
A closer look at despair
Rizvi’s platform Ehsaas Films Project advocates for awareness about taboo issues through the media of theatre and digital media. Its goal is to give a voice to youth of underprivileged areas by taking them on board and telling their stories. His proposal has the support from Packard Foundation and Youth Champions Initiative, Public Health Institute California.
He intends to screen his short video in shanty towns so that all those who do not have access to the media can understand the gravity of the situation, as intersex people often end up living in such areas after becoming social outcasts.
"Forget government jobs, we’ll be happy working as maids in houses but people won’t keep us because they are more concerned about what their neighbours will say," Sapna says.
“I plan to screen the films in katch abadi areas as well because at the moment only limited audience can benefit from it and that audience also has a brief idea about their struggles. We need to get to the grassroots level other people on the other hand need to be told about the lives of transgender communities.”
His research unearthed a world of issues faced by such communities. Shooting alone taught him many things as he realised that during his work with Sapna, people would gawk, pass sleazy comments and harass Sapna.
“It is as if they are actually not considered humans, people sitting in cars would look at us as if we belonged to some other planet.”
Sapna, on whom the eponymous documentary is based, was glad that people are acknowledging the woes of transgender persons.
But she thinks her future is bleak. “There are so many people who talk about giving us government jobs but no one is willing to walk the talk. Forget government jobs, we’ll be happy working as maids in houses but people won’t keep us because they are more concerned about what their neighbours will say.”
All she wants, she said, is respect and acceptance as an individual of this community. “People detest our existence and some are fearful of us. We mean no harm, we are just like others and we only want respect.”