When Malini Jeevarathnam read Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India, she stumbled upon the folk story of Tija and Bija, two women who grew up together and were in love. But, it was difficult for their love to withstand the pressures of society. It is with this story that Jeevarathnam’s documentary, ‘Ladies and Gentle Women’ begins.
“Last year, around 17 LGBTQ people in Chennai died due to committing suicide or honour killings. Society doesn’t accept them for who they are and neither do their parents. It is difficult for young people to communicate to their parents about their sexuality. I want the documentary to bring such incidents to light,” explains the 26-year-old filmmaker who hails from Chennai.
As part of the film’s research, Jeevarathnam met around 85 women from the LGBTQ community, but none of them were ready to speak in front of the camera, “When the film was being screened at the Chennai Rainbow Film Festival, some women whom I had met earlier came for it. They watched the documentary and later they came up to me and said that they loved the film and shouldn’t have hesitated to be interviewed. They asked me to give them the film so that they could show it to their parents. This is the kind of impact I want the film to have.”
Through the film, Jeevarathnam brings in different perspectives to the issue by talking to LGBTQ activists, journalists, lawyers and common people. She believes that acceptance of lesbianism is directly linked with feminism, “I have come across many people who believe that women are born solely for the pleasure of men. Women are a minority and most people think that feminism and lesbianism is a foreign concept. It isn’t! We can find so many stories in ancient texts. In fact, in the documentary, an activist says that she sees most lesbian couples coming from smaller cities in Tamil Nadu like Madurai, Salem, Coimbatore and Dindigul. This is not because of some western influence.”
Media reportage of LGBTQ suicides plays a big role in the film as well, “Most reports always suggest that the suicide was an accident. Families of the deceased do not want the public to know that their child was lesbian or gay, so they generally portray the suicide or honour killing as an accident.” The film ends with a question being asked to people – When their friend or relative is about to attempt suicide regarding this issue, will they then, accept them?
‘Ladies and Gentle Women’ won the best film award at Chennai Rainbow Film Festival and Norway Tamil Film Festival.
It will be screened at the Pune International Queer Film Festival.
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