Ganguly’s 'Nagarkirtan': Mirroring India’s trans community

Location

Ganguly’s 'Nagarkirtan': Mirroring India’s trans community

Parimal does not want to live her life as a man anymore; she feels it is not her truth

Ganguly’s 'Nagarkirtan': Mirroring India’s trans community

This film narrates a beautiful yet tender love story. It does away with all the norms of an Indian love story that we are accustomed to see on the cinema screens. It holds a mirror to the viewers. It’s a reminder to all those times people turned their faces from the sight of a trans person knocking on a car window. It highlights the way society has stereotyped the existence of a trans person. The way they have always been considered as a bunch of miscreants who cannot be trusted and how their company is considered highly undesirable for any respectable member of a ‘civilised’ society.

'Nagarkirtan' is an unforgettable and an unflinching tale of Parimal (Riddhi Sen) who does not want to live her life as a man anymore, as she feels it is not her truth and Madhu (Ritwick Chakraborty) who is a delivery boy at a Chinese restaurant and is a flautist in kirtans. 

Parimal runs away from home and moves in with a community of trans persons as she is unable to live with what she considers her biggest lie while coping with the trauma of being betrayed by her teacher Subhash da. 

New place gives her a new name. Parimal is named Puti – a name that lends itself to various connotations: a ‘small fish’, or it may be attributed to the game of Ludo, where she always comes up with ‘one’ or ‘put’, as it is called in Bangla – in other words, a loser.

Though Puti goes around seeking money at traffic signals, she wants to undergo the sex reassignment surgery that will help enable the realisation of her true/complete self – as she tells Madhu, who not only reciprocates Puti’s love but also makes it his mission to raise the money required for her surgery.

The story is set against an utterly authentic and compelling backdrop of what genteel society would call ‘lowlife’. Despite his deep love for Puti, Madhu is ill-at-ease with how Puti really looks and insists on never taking off that wig till she grows her own long hair. Shorn of any mannerism or make-up to support his act, Ritwik Chakraborty bowls us over with his heart-wrenching performance. The climax which ends with Madhu, will surely leave a lump in your throat for a long time after the movie ends. 

'Nagarkirtan’s' success lies in exposing layers of hypocrisy. The movie has Manabi Bandyopadhyay, India’s first transgender college principal and Bengal’s first transgender professor, playing herself in the film. In a scene, Bandyopadhyay laments that despite everything that she has achieved, she can’t even use the women’s toilet at her workplace without raising eyebrows. 

One thing that is fascinating about the film is that it never depicts any direct witchhunt of trans persons. They are never treated badly in a direct manner. Yet, at every step, they are denied even the most basic human rights – the right to employment, for instance, or the right to dignity. 

What also makes the film work is its non-linear structure, moving back and forth in time. The movie is powerful on one hand and sensitive on the other, a biting commentary on the life of the trans community in contemporary Indian society on one hand and a beautiful love story on the other.

In a scene during which it is particularly difficult to hold back one’s tears, Puti asks her lover – “you made love to me, did it seem to you that I am anything but a woman?”. Here a woman, who is not allowed to be a woman by society, is seeking a sort of reassurance from a man that has made love to her, asking him if she is feminine enough! 

Coming back to the climax – the director makes a point to situate it in Nabadweep, home of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, considered in the Hindu religious pantheon to be the incarnation of and combining in himself the attributes of both Lord Krishna and Radharani, thus reinforcing the bhakti roots behind androgyny and androgynous relationships. 

At the same time, in depicting the brutality of the film’s most traumatic scene on a mobile phone, the director makes a brilliant social comment – on our sadistic fetish for capturing the most inhumane act on camera and presenting it as ‘entertainment’.

Love is love. Love knows no religion, caste, creed or barrier.

Parimal, being a 19-year-old woman trapped in a man’s body, admires Madhu’s sister-in-law’s (played by Bidipta Chakraborty) curves and yearns desperately for a female body. In her journey, she had the silent and steady presence of her lover. 

Madhu, till the last scene, remains in search of his sexual identity. 'Nagarkirtan' is all about their tale of love. 

This is not the first time that director Ganguly has addressed issues revolving around sexuality and gender in his films. In telefilms like 'Ushnatar Janye' (2003), he explored the storyline of lesbians. With 'Nagarkirtan', the director sets the bar even higher. His work is a near-perfect film that captures the essence of its subject in an all-encompassing manner. 

In a gut-wrenching scene that does not hesitate to poke us in the eye, the film tells us that every single day, in some gang of transgenders or the other in the city, there is always a new entrant. Human beings, like the rest of us. It takes us deep into their world and their hearts and gives us an unforgiving glimpse into their plight, a sight that we cannot unsee. 

Where do they come from? No one knows. But they come – leaving their homes, banished by family and friends, ostracised by society, and thrown out by the very people who were supposed to embrace them. All this, for no fault of theirs. All this, because of a simple whim of nature.

Right from the opening scene, all the way to the haunting final scene, it is Kaushik Ganguly’s writing that stands out. This is no ordinary filmmaking. The flashback scenes from Puti’s home are beautifully shot and scored, and one can almost feel the tension seeping out of the screen as Puti struggles to find peace with the way life is treating her. But particularly commendable is the writing. The film has some brilliant cinematography by Shirsha Ray and a moving background score by Prabuddha Banerjee.  

In totality, 'Nagarkirtan' is a must watch for anyone who has a taste for relationship tales. It’s moving and powerful.