At the Aks festival, the stories of Pakistan's transgender community get heard

At the Aks festival, the stories of Pakistan's transgender community get heard

Short films and Dehlavi's Immaculate Conception made for encouraging debate on depiction of gender issues in Pakistan
16 Apr, 2016

KARACHI: A festival that aims to shed light on the lives, culture and identity of the transgender community and other sexual minorities in Pakistan through film, art and dialogue opened at T2F on Friday.

Held consecutively in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, the first day of the four-day Aks Film, Art and Dialogue Festival in Karachi featured short documentaries under the banner ‘Made in Pakistan’ as well as a screening of Immaculate Conception by British-Pakistani filmmaker Jamil Dehlavi.

Paintings by Kajal Mitra, a transgender from the Christian community — a “double minority” according to prominent Karachi-based transgender activist Kami — will also be part of the festival.

The first Aks festival was organised in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2014 by Saadat who had previously made a film with Kami, called ‘Chuppan Chupai’.

“I invited Neeli Rana [a Lahore-based transgender activist] to attend the festival in Copenhagen and she suggested that we do a similar event in Pakistan,” he said speaking to Dawn. The Pakistan version of the festival has been organised by Saadat, Kami, Neeli Rana, Jannat Ali (another transgender activist) and supported by the Goethe Institut and Forum for Dignity Initiatives (a Lahore-based human rights advocacy group) among others.

“I did have concerns regarding safety and security for this event that is why we kept it invitation-only,” said Saadat, “Only those that sent a request to attend were permitted and they were screened before being allowed to attend.”

The first half of the festival featured fiction and docu-fiction dramas by name of ‘Katchi’, ‘As I remember’ and ‘Nightlife’.

“I wanted to show that there is a vibrant indie filmmaker scene in Pakistan as well through these screenings,” related Saadat.

‘Katchi’ by Amina Malik had its premiere at the festival and focuses on the life of a ‘Murat’ (a term coined by the local community for a transgender woman) in a reverse narrative form. Although it is a fiction film, it is largely based on a true story of a transgender guru in Pakistan. Malik was scheduled for a talk at the event but couldn’t turn up.

‘Nightlife’ by Harune Massey is about the abuse suffered by teenage male sex workers who lose as street-side masseurs in Lahore. ‘As I remember’ by Saqib Noman is a story about a boy and his ‘cute’ friendship with another boy and follows them as they live their lives within the Walled City of Lahore. The film documents the abuse and harassment they face on the streets.

This was perhaps the first time Jamil Dehlavi’s Immaculate Conception, which prominently depicts the transgender community in Pakistan, was shown to an audience partly comprising the transgender community itself. “This film was made 35 years ago and I don’t know whether you’re going to slaughter me or not,” laughed Dehlavi, “I would be very curious to know what you [the community] think.”

“I’m from the transgender community,” said Shahzadi, “I would like to clarify that not all transgender people are hijras. We try to show ourselves as being beautiful, whereas in the movie the transgender people you’ve shown look very scary. The makeup is loud and garish.” She along with another member of their community, Iraj, felt very strongly that there was a need to show the community in a more ‘positive’ light as opposed to as the villains they were made out to be.

Dehlavi clarified that this film was originally made for a British audience and this was the first time he was getting feedback from the Pakistani transgender community. And that he would try to incorporate that if he made another film on the community.

Some senior members such as the well-known activist, Bindya Rana, among others were slightly disturbed that the film showed a very stereotypical image of the community but added that this wasn’t a documentary, it was a feature film and therefore open to interpretation.

“That doesn’t really happen in the community,” said Iraj, after the film. “Maybe it does in the villages,” suggested Kami.

Perhaps the Aks festival is proving to be educational for the community as well as for outsiders. At the very least it’s an encouraging discussion on gender issues in Pakistan and their depiction in film and art.

Originally published in Dawn, April 16th, 2016


kp Apr 16, 2016 06:10pm
I welcome this sort of news with open heart.
D_H Apr 16, 2016 07:28pm
They dont need festivals, they need psychologists. Transgenders have a suicide rate of 41% in the US.
aslam shaikh Apr 17, 2016 12:57pm
It is becoming a fashion to glorify Trans and gays. We should get this managed somehow.