A RENOWNED Indian director behind a controversial film about the relationship between a transvestite and a woman who was gangraped hopes the movie will tackle social taboos not just in India but the whole world.
Amol Palekar’s The Square Circle was originally released as Daayraa in 1996 following sell-out festival performances and an eight-week run in London’s West End as a play.
The story of a young village girl (Sonali Kulkarni) who is kidnapped on the eve of her wedding and sent to become a prostitute was selected as one of the top 10 films of that year by Time Magazine.
The unlikely twist is when the girl, on escaping her captors, finds solace with a transvestite (Nirmal Pandey) whom she falls in love with.
The film is set to get its first DVD release by Blue Dolphin Films next week just weeks after the BBC documentary India’s Daughter, which chronicled the story of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh who was brutally gang-raped and died of her injuries in 2012, was banned in India.
The case generated worldwide outrage and demands from Indian citizens for the government to take action against rapes and enact laws to protect women.
“The issues pertaining to sexuality and identity occupy the contemporary sensibilities in a major way, hence are extremely relevant even 20 years later,” Palekar told Eastern Eye.
The 70-year-old director, who is also an award-winning actor, is known for his sensitive portrayal of women and handling of social issues in his films. When Palekar embarked on his directorial career, he said he wanted to focus on people who were marginalised in society and was inspired by those who carried on living their lives despite “antagonism” from others.
“Women have been relentlessly pursuing to resist the patriarchal aggression,” he said.
“Their struggle comes alive through the characters in my films. What fascinates me is their irreverence towards mainstream and the strength to own up their choices till the end.
“Through subversion of cumulative silence and prototypes of exploitation, my protagonists march towards love and empathy. Therefore, I have chosen to depict simple but autonomous, unconventional female characters who seek to challenge providence. My characters strive to break their alienation and assert against the mainstream dominance,” he said.
In The Square Circle, the central theme of the film explored transvestism, a subject which had been rarely touched upon in other films, explains Palekar.
He said: “We consider transvestism as unnatural deviation from what is ‘normal’. Why do we react so vehemently towards something which is not in conformity with that of the majority? Is it because ‘their’ choices are different from ‘ours’; is it a war between majority and minority – a sheer game of numbers? Or does it threaten the core of human existence?
“The male chauvinist culture and patriarchal dominance lead to their subjugation. Refusal to accept transvestites is the standard practice across cultures. Thus The Square Circle is relevant not only in India but all over the world.”
Palekar said he had watched the banned documentary India’s Daughter where British filmmaker Leslie Udwin interviewed Mukesh Singh, one of the six men who were convicted in the Delhi gang rape case. During the interview conducted in a prison, Singh said: “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.”
The Indian government said it banned the film because it could create “law and order problems”. Palekar said “no Indian believing in freedom of speech” supported the government’s decision to ban the broadcast of the film. He said: “I have always waged a war against censorship of any kind. In case of The Square Circle, I had accepted the ‘For Adults Only’ certificate, however refused to accept any visual and audio cuts. Even though Indian culture may seem conservative in the non-liberal sense, it is not.”
He added that he made The Square Circle with the intention that it would help foster better understanding of people who appear ‘different’.
“I made the film with a sincere hope that we will respect the rich diversity of identities and alternative ways of being, rather than unleashing ostracism and condemnation; that we will not just tolerate, but accept differences; that we will offer empathy and not just pity or mercy.”
The Square Circle will be released on DVD on next Monday (20).