We at Gaylaxy Magazine first want to congratulate India’s youngest filmmaker who made a short film on transgender and is now riding on its tremendous success. In 2009 he won the prestigious “Youngest Film Maker 2009” from Reuters Channel. And in 2016 his short film “It’s Not My Choice” won awards and critical appreciation. We also got a chance to see the film after it was released online for free streaming on January 15 this year. Gaylaxy is really glad to have him with us and discuss his film.
Gaylaxy: First we would like to know little more about you?
Priyakanta: Thank you so much. First and foremost, I am glad that you have recognised my film and it is indeed a great honour and joy and privilege to get this opportunity to share some of my words and views. I am Priyakanta Laishram, 19 years old, from Imphal, Manipur. I am currently pursuing Bachelor Of Mass Media in Lala Lajpat Rai College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai. I have always been inclined towards artistic stuffs like acting, singing, dancing, film-making, scriptwriting and editing. I made three children films using a mobile phone at the age of 11 which went on to win “The Youngest Film Maker 2009” by Reuters, “Most Talented Kid Award 2009” by Nokia and “Amazing Kids Records Of India 2011”. Right now, I am also actively involved in volunteering for children with cancer and their families and also working for the LGBT Community at an individual level. My interests deeply lie in equal rights and human issues and bringing unity and equality to people that need empowerment.
Gaylaxy: How did the film happen? How was the experience?
Priyakanta: As a scriptwriter and a filmmaker, I always wanted to write and make films based on social issues. For my recently released film IT’S NOT MY CHOICE, it all began when I met some of my sister’s friends who are transgender and a very close friend of mine who is gay, while I was in my 11th and 12th standard in Chandigarh. Having seen the hardship and struggles they faced with their own families and society, I felt really bad. My best-friend was locked up inside his house by his parents for more than 3 weeks, and was not allowed to go to school. His parents didn’t even let me enter when I went to meet him. The tears that rolled down from my innocent friend’s eyes for being betrayed by his own family has given me the courage to stand up as a vocal supporter of the LGBT community. After I met him, I began to read articles regarding homosexuality, LGBT Rights in India and abroad and Section 377. That was the point I decided to write a script and make a film on it so that at least I can help the public understand the issue. And I am extremely thankful to my parents and sister for supporting me in this.
Experience that I have gained by doing this film has been amazing. The feeling of being loved and accepted by the people from LGBT Community is just so special. The smiles on their faces and those sweet mails and messages are beyond expectation. It has also given me the spirit to move more forward and work for humanity.
Gaylaxy : What is the understanding of homosexuality expressed through the title “It’s Not My Choice”?
Priyakanta: The title itself i.e ‘’It’s Not My Choice” says that it is not by choice that homosexual people are homosexuals. The general public thinks that homosexuality is a genetic defect or it is because of wrong upbringing and socialisation. They have that wrong concept in their mind that someone’s sexual preference or sexuality can easily be changed through proper medication or yoga.
So, through the title, I am telling the general public that homosexuality is not a choice. It is not a result of “upbringing”, “socialisation”, or sexual molestation as a child. And people who act on the belief that it is, very often end up doing great harm, wittingly or not. I am saying that being gay or trans is a part of normal range of human sexuality. It’s not a mutation, but rather very much like the genetic regions that determine the colour of your hair.
Gaylaxy: The word “homo” has been repeatedly used in the film. What is the local connotation of it?
Priyakanta: As my film’s story and situation is based in Manipur and its people, I have decided to use the word that the masses of Manipur have been using since time immemorial to describe effeminate guys or people belonging to trans community. In Manipur, when someone sees a guy with effeminate behaviour, they will say “Is he a homo???”. It’s just like people in Mumbai refer to every effeminate guys as “Chhakka” or “Hijra’’ or “Tempu” in Punjab. I am just being honest to all the aspects about what is going on in our society, may it be local words or dressings. I have been asked this question by a well known trans activist from Manipur. But as far as my film is concerned, I just want to be honest about everything. I think that is the true spirit of being a filmmaker because films and filmmakers are the mass reformers. If we can’t be true to the theme and issue, better not expect a change in our society because the outcome will be disappointing.
Gaylaxy: There is a general perception that trans people in Manipur fare comparatively better than the counterparts in the rest of the country. What do you think of this perception?
Priyakanta: I won’t say “no’’. YES it is comparatively better in Manipur. Transgender people face relatively less discrimination in Manipur. There are reasons to this. Transgender people thrive in not so urbanized state owing to its diverse and culturally more tolerant society. In Manipur, there has always been space for transgender persons since time immemorial. Maibi, a priestess of Meitei religion, is usually performed by a transgender woman to show her devotion towards the religion. It has been accepted in the society. Shumang Lila which is also known as courtyard theater is a highly localized entertainment platform for the locals. Leading roles are portrayed by talented transgender people. Miss Northeast Transgender Beauty Contests are held every year in Manipur to create awareness about them and give them a dignified space in the society. 80% of transgenders in Manipur are involved in opening beauty parlours and saloons and they have almost occupied a very big space in the glamour industry of Manipur.
But the question is “Education’’. It is not mandatory for all the transgender people to become a beautician or to work in a beauty parlour. But why do most of them end up working in a local parlour? Because their family disowned them and they are made to quit studying against their wish. It is high time for the parents and family to support their children for who they are irrespective of their gender and sexuality. But I am glad that so many transgender have come up pursuing higher studies in recent years. And it is also a fact that North-East India has been more accommodative than other regions of the country when it comes to respecting and giving their due spaces in society. Fortunately, transgender people in the North-East have been able to seek job opportunities and not been excluded.
Gaylaxy: The subject of trans or “homo” is nothing new in the art scene in Manipur. Shumang Leela is a genre in itself and there have been few digital films on trans as well. What is different or new about your film?
Priyakanta: Shumang Leela is a different art form. There, the trans people are playing female characters and portray themselves as females. People appreciate the trans actors when they are performing on stage because the audience love the characters they are portraying and Shumang Leela is loved by one and all. But when they see the same actor on the road, hardly very few people respect them. Others started calling names and passing silly comments. This is the fact. And yes, there were few films based on it. But none of them had shown the clear image of what homosexuality and sexual preference is.
In IT’S NOT MY CHOICE, I am dealing with facts. As I have mentioned, I am showing that being a transgender or gay or lesbian is not a choice. It is not a result of “upbringing”, “socialisation”, or sexual molestation as a child and they are no less than straight people. I am saying that being gay or trans is a part of normal range of human sexuality and someone’s sexuality and preference cannot be changed.
Gaylaxy: The harassment from police or military personnel is apparent in the film. Does the presence of military personnel (AFSPA) escalate trans related harassment and violence in the region?
Priyakanta: I won’t completely blame the police or military personnel for the trans related harassment and violence. Even the police and military personnel are the citizens of the same society that we are living in. For generations, our society has taught us to see Transgender, Gay and Lesbian people as something abhorrent and unnatural. That belief has got ingrained in everyone’s minds and persists to this day. It is the fault of the society. It is time for everyone to get all the misconceptions corrected and then everything will fall perfectly in its place. But for the violence in the region, YES, AFSPA is a major setback for Manipur and involved in most of the encounter killings. I don’t want to speak much about the military personnel but repealing AFSPA from Manipur is really necessary.
Gaylaxy: How is the public reception so far; especially from the trans community?
Priyakanta: I am absolutely amazed by the amount of love and support I have been receiving since the day I posted on my social media handles that I am going to make a movie titled “IT’S NOT MY CHOICE’’. My Facebook and Instagram family – they all are truly amazing people. I am glad that the judges and jury members for all the film festivals, both national and international loved the theme and its plot. I am thankful to them for recognising my film with all those beautiful awards and nominations. The best things are the appreciations, applauses, warm wishes, flowers and cards that I have received from the people who belong to the LGBT community. Since its online release, I haven’t got a single negative comment yet. I am glad that the masses have started feeling okay with the theme.
Gaylaxy: Desire; love and lust are embedded in our quest for gender and identity. Do you believe so? Is Manipuri cinema ready to explore desire?
Priyakanta: In my opinion, I think it would be hard and difficult for love and lust to coexist together. But in case of quest for gender and identity, I do believe that desire, love and lust are embedded.
Desire in Manipuri Cinema? Haha… No. It will take few more decades. I will get trolled if I share some personal opinions regarding the restrictions. Haha.
Gaylaxy: The censorship in Manipuri cinema fraternity has been often touted as very strenuous? How was your experience?
Priyakanta: Fortunately, there was no need for censor certificate for short film festivals. So, I didn’t go through that phase. Besides censorship, I and my team had a really difficult time. The whole film was shot while the mass processions, riots, strikes and curfews were going on for Inner Line Permit in 2015. While no one was even allowed to move out of their houses, we made the film because the deadline given for the participation of Film Festival was really very near and we had to finish the film. That was scary as hell.
Gaylaxy: What is your next project? A lot of us are excited to know.
Priyakanta: I have written a few scripts but I haven’t decided about my next project yet. I am planning to make another short film this June after the completion of my second semester examination. If I make it, the subject matter will be about two women in their late 30’s, their love for the same man, and how each of them, in their own respective fashion and perspective, deal with the grief of losing him. It is all about celebrating life and values of living a life. I have got this concept in my mind lately and I find it unique and interesting.
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