Documentary ‘Sapna’ — the nightmare of being a transgender person

Documentary ‘Sapna’ — the nightmare of being a transgender person

Based on the life of a transgender person, Sapna aims to challenge the thought which alienates 'them' from 'us'.
07 Oct, 2015

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'."

Read: Transgender community seeks acceptance in society

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.”

Befriending Sapna

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.”


baakhlaq Oct 07, 2015 06:08pm
It doesn't appear about the problems faced by a transgender,rather it is about the problems faced by a poor and down trodden.
M.Shahab uddin Oct 07, 2015 07:22pm
Well done Ali Rizvi, You chose a very sensitive topic and filmed it very sensibly.
M.Shahab uddin Oct 07, 2015 07:24pm
Well Done Ali Rizvi, you chose a sensitive topic and filmed it sensibly, Sapna needs applause who acted very well to highlight the isuue.
Hamaad Oct 07, 2015 07:59pm
Primarily they need their families's acceptance and support. Good work in raising awareness, Ali Rizvi!
Asif Khan Oct 07, 2015 08:30pm
thumbs up man, you are doing the brilliant job
everg reen Oct 07, 2015 08:36pm
every one need acceptance in the society. we should accept them as we accept others in the society.they deserve the same rights what we deserve
Mirza Shuja Uddin Beg Oct 07, 2015 10:25pm
Ali Rizvi has done a commendable job for his first attempt at Documentary filmmaking. What makes his work unique is that he has mixed fiction with fact.. He has made Sapna act and yet has let Sapna exist in her space. His access to the seedy world where transgender are rendered as mere sex objects is indeed eye opening and kudos for him in bringing such an atmosphere for the unaware viewer. Keep it up Rizvi!
jogi Oct 08, 2015 01:13am
Aisha Tufail Oct 08, 2015 05:36am
Excellent work to raise the awareness and effort to break the taboo of transgender. They deserve equality and human rights as well. They should be treated as equal and should have all the rights of education, job and business as any other human being and not only the right to be maid.
SJ Oct 08, 2015 08:42am
Wow, very powerful message. Couldn't take my eyes off the screen for a moment while you took my thought process to another level. Thanks Ali for your brilliant work and Zoya for bringing it to our attention, equally important task.
Ali Rizvi Oct 08, 2015 08:49am
@Mirza Shuja Uddin Beg Thank you :)
Shah Nawaz Oct 08, 2015 09:56am
Do you that the average life span of transgender person in Muslim countries is just 35 years? It is generaly low in third word countries.
Ravish Ali Oct 08, 2015 12:10pm
I can't tell how delighted I am to see your work, Zoya & Ali. It is such a bold topic & we really need awareness even in our so called educated class. Trans genders are just like us. Nothing taboo about how they are. But how many times do we get to see this? Almost never are they accepted as our equals. Bravo for these efforts. Wishing you guys the best in future.
Shahab Usmani Oct 08, 2015 07:28pm
well done Ali at helping to portray this side of a problem that plagues Pakistan at the moment. This is a bold step in helping people realise that this problem exists and that it needs to be thought about as well.
Sarah Ahmed Oct 09, 2015 09:24am
Wonderful work. We need to accept them in our society and respect them. Im happy to see people like you making a change in our society.
Neelofer Oct 09, 2015 10:02am
Excellent effort. It is extremely important to raise awareness about these issues and to realize that these people are human.
berni Oct 09, 2015 01:58pm
I can identify with Sapna because I'm told that I'm a Muhajir, not a Pakistani.