A group of people huddle around a laptop in a small room. As the rain drums steadily onto the asbestos roof, transgender (TG) rights activist Kalki Subramaniam takes them through the various stages involved in making a short film.
“So far, other people have been questioning us, telling our struggles and showing the world who we are. Now we want to tell the world who we are through our films,” says Kalki. She is helping eight transgenders tell their stories by equipping them with filmmaking skills. The two-tofive-minute films her students make will be screened at the Alliance Francaise on August 21.
It all began when Kalki received a scholarship from ‘Women Aloud: Videoblogging for Empowerment (WAVE)’ last year. The project is run by filmmakers Sapna Shahani and Angana Jhaveri, and trains one woman from every state to become citizen journalists, to tell video stories about positive changes in their communities to an online audience. “We were given a two-week training to make short films,” says Kalki, the only transwoman to be selected. “The aim was to get women from marginalised sections to tell stories of their community, culture, traditions and problems they face through video blogs,” she adds.
Last year, Kalki made ‘Smile’, a film that records the happy smiles of people of her community. “Shooting videos is my hobby, so I just put together footage I had from 2007 to 2009,” she says. “The lives of transgenders is tough. The world may laugh at us, but we never forget to smile,” says the founder of Sahodari Foundation, which works to empower transgenders.
As part of WAVE, Kalki made five short films, including ‘Sisters on the street: A day in the life of two transgender women’, a five-minute film on the sexual harrassment transgenders face when they go begging.
But Kalki was not content just making her own films. A month ago, she launched Project Kalki, teaching other transgenders how to handle a camera, script and edit on a laptop. “I wanted to pass on my knowledge and empower them as community journalists,” says Kalki, who has masters’ degrees in journalism and mass communication as well as international relations.
Her students — Monal, Sandhiya, Sowndharya, Gomathi, Abinaya, Kanchana, Sowmiya and Thenmozhi — are still working on their films. While Monal is making a film on garbage pickers, Gomathi’s deals with street children. Sandhiya has decided to focus on abandoned old people, Thenmozhi on HIV+ transgenders and Sowndharya on the relationship between transgenders and their families.
“I left home when I was 14 as my family refused to accept me. After years, my mother has finally reconciled to who I am and we live together,” says Sowndharya, whose film is inspired by her own experience. “Many transgenders are abandoned by their families. I want to show real-life situations so that families are sensitised. It can be screened during awareness programmes,” she says.
Gomathi, who works at a community care centre in Perungalathur, was moved by the plight of the children she saw on the train every day while commuting. “They beg, sell water packets and sleep on platforms. I began speaking to them and realised each of them have a story,” says Gomathi. Her film was inspired by two boys whom she saw every day selling water packets. “They told me how their father had left them, another brother had run away, and they were now homeless, taking care of each other.”
Monal says she always wondered why garbage pickers on the streets didn’t do any other work. “Only when I spoke to them I realised that many of them are orphans or runaways. No one employs them as they’re homeless. Even the women cannot find work as domestic help,” she says. Shooting her film was not easy as people were wary of the camera. “Initially, I just left the camera on and let them talk. It made them feel more comfortable,” she says.
Kalki is proud of the progress her class has made so far. “They’re all very interested in movies and eager to learn. With our films we want to show the world that we, like everybody else, also care about old people and street children,” she says.