Director: Vishal Srivastava
Cast: Pranit Hatte, Randhir Chaudhary, Madhuri Sarode Sharma, Kshitij Gera
Wajood is a short film about an outsider. In today’s India, I wonder what it says about the times that public perception locates no significant chasm between outsiders and “outcasts”. The term has now acquired more interpretations than ever before – a cultural outsider (foreigners, immigrants), socioeconomic outsider (low-income classes), professional outsider (artists, ‘creative’ folk), societal outsider (unmarried/childless couples, sex workers) and emotional outsider (homosexuality, alternative lifestyles).
While we’ve seen an increasing number of documentaries and narrative fiction films featuring representatives from each of the aforementioned categories, Indian cinema is yet to make adult peace with the psychological complexity of the trans-woman. In a nation obsessed with superficial physicality and binary labels, the common ‘hijra’ is observed to be a physical outsider – a “condition” that automatically qualifies them for all the other categories of outsider-ness. Everything else is a subset of their appearance.
Srivastava’s short simplifies this reality by accommodating it within the confines of unrequited love. It suggests the story of a Mumbai-based hijra secretly infatuated with a rickshaw driver. There is, after all, nothing like the concept of one-sided romance to depict the tragedy and travails of a quintessential outsider. Wajood isn’t as dramatic as it sounds. But it does enough to outline the mental isolation of a protagonist who is torn between the legality and limitations of her identity; she wants to love with the dignity of a lawful trans-woman, but is trapped within the existence of a lawless hijra.
The communality of the very section that shelters her is also the leash that stifles her. Not all trans-women are hijras – though it says a lot about the prevalent South-Asian culture that the third gender is primarily recognized by the work they (are conditioned to) do.
The lines and ideas in the film are basic, but there is a feeling about it. It’s not just the lilting soundtrack. The director frames the face of the lead, Pranit Hatte, in a way that compels us to forget that we might actually be watching a man – Hatte is in fact a transvestite stage actor, whose group ‘Colour Positive’ works for LGBTQ causes – in the role of a trans-woman. Hatte’s face is beautiful, in a sort of gender-fluid, Hillary-Swank-ish manner. The camera believes this, too, and normalizes Hatte’s attractiveness – just the way the character aches to be seen – by adopting the tropes of mild masala moviemaking. Her desires become legitimate and sad, at least in context of the prejudice us viewers tend to begin with. That we’re left wondering why she needs to feel insecure, in spite of her place in this world, is a testament to the maker’s inherently progressive prism.
For a fleeting few moments, the hijra manages to defy decades of mental conditioning. Like anyone else, she becomes a lady uncomfortable with the male gaze on a late-night train journey; only, the politics of this scene are subverted. Wajood, even if it has to spell it out, proves that the problem always lay in the eyes of the beholder.