There's a scene in Ektara Collective's Ek Jagah Apni which stuck with me for more reasons than one. The protagonists, two transgender women speak at a seminar and are respected for their trans identity, only to be subjected to transphobic slurs and harassment by auto rickshaw drivers as they leave. It is a poignant and powerful depiction of the duality that is central to many trans experiences.
Like this scene, the film maps out the heart-wrenching reality of living in a world that is often hostile to those who don't conform to traditional gender norms.
Speaking to The Quint, the cast and crew reflect on the importance of trans representation in Indian cinema, current trends of misrepresentation and more - ahead of the film's prestigious UK premiere at the BFI Flare Festival. On 11 March, the film became the 60th South Asian production to be screened at the revered South By Southwest Festival, where it had its North American premiere.
Ek Jagah Apni is a thought-provoking film that delves into the everyday struggles of two trans women who are searching for an apartment to share. As the film progresses, we see that their search for a physical space to call their own is intricately connected to their search for a safe and accepting place in the society, at large.
Neeraj Churi, the film's Executive Producer and founder of Lotus Visual Productions, says, "We know that yeah, trans people have trouble finding a home…but we’ve never seen a representation of that. What's striking is that while the story is set in India, it is resonating everywhere in the world because this issue of trans and queer people not finding accommodation or a safe space, is a story that can be found anywhere."
What makes this film particularly impactful is the fact that the actors (Muskaan and Avni) are not trained professionals but rather trans women who have lived through these experiences themselves. By drawing on their own traumatic and transphobic experiences, they are able to bring a level of authenticity and emotional depth to their performances that trained actors might not be able to achieve.
Speaking about her initial experiences while shooting, Muskaan recalls, "The idea started out as a short film but as we were working on it, discussing it, it turned out to be a feature-length film. I am so happy that I put out my life for the world to see."
All the struggles I’ve faced, be it personal, familial or socio-political, I shared them with the team and now the film is out. This is me and I want people to understand me for who I am. We don’t need to do the understanding, we need to be understood.MUSKAAN, ACTOR
Speaking about the authenticity in Ek Jagah Apni, Ektara Collective notes, "When people say that this film is about trans people, we always correct them; because this film is by trans people, first and foremost." They add, "We are not saying that someone else shouldn’t make films like these, but we're looking at how they’re engaging with the film, what perspective they are showing or simply where they stand while telling this story. That’s the authenticity everyone is talking about."
Muskaan chimes in, adding that "the trans characters in Indian cinema are simply not real", adding that "there’s something artificial about the portrayal."
She reasons, "If they were to cast an actual trans person for the role, people could understand us better. For cisgender actors, it’s just a role. But for us or anyone within the community, it’s our lived experiences."
We also feel like they’re (straight men being cast as transgender women) making a mockery of our community. These films never show the reality of being trans in India.AVNI, ACTOR
With the 21st century media landscape prioritizing tokenistic portrayals of queerness over sensitive depictions, there's an ongoing discourse surrounding heterosexual, cisgender men playing transgender women on screen.
Reflecting on that, Neeraj Churi responds, "There’s a big debate going on that trans roles are being played by cisgender people. And here, the team took extra efforts to ensure that they got people from the trans community. Not only that, they conducted workshops to bring in that sort of authenticity."
Ek Jagah Apni is an honest, raw portraiture of transness - being told by trans and queer artistes.
While the film garners international praise and accolades, it deserves a much bigger spotlight, closer home.