‘Geeli Pucchi’ Is a Lesson in Intersectional, Inclusive Filmmaking
‘Geeli Pucchi’ from Netflix’s anthology ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ explores a queer, caste-based intersectionality
I watched Geeli Pucchi once. Then I watched it again as an actor, and again, as a Dalit queer woman. It is not the first film that has unraveled caste for us in India. Mainstream Bollywood cinema has given us path breaking films in the past, such as Achhut Kanya, Bandit Queen, Sujata, Ankur, Mandi and many more. Then why does Geeli Pucchi stand out especially, in the contemporary times like these, where anti-caste discourse is making noise in India and globally also?
Geeli Pucchi, a part of Netflix’s latest anthology Ajeeb Daastaans, directed by Neeraj Ghaywan has managed to accomplish many firsts. The first film to have a Dalit queer woman as a protagonist, the first to witness the word Dalit as is, the first to have been directed by a filmmaker- a man who belongs to the Dalit community, the first to have a film crew of Dalit and queer folks supporting and guiding the filmmaking process. Geeli Pucchi is a lesson in intersectional, inclusive filmmaking- to tell a nuanced story even if the identity of an actor is far removed from the identity of a character and people making the film.
Through a 30-minute short film, Neeraj has managed to shine light on the precarity of a disadvantaged caste identity through Bharti Mondal (played by Konkona SenSharma) - a Dalit queer woman who is the only woman working in a factory till one day, Priya Sharma (played by Aditi Rao Hydari), a married dominant caste woman joins the factory and grabs the attention of all the male employees as they feel it is the first time, they have a "woman" working with them.
Geeli Pucchi hits the nail as Bharti is affirmed by Dashrath - an old man and her only friend at the factory- that she will never get a data operator job in spite of having a degree and good grades because she is Dalit. In India, where a significant section of society self-addresses themselves as Dalits, it has taken several decades for the mainstream cinema to evoke the political identity on screen. It is because in the past, the films made on caste were made only by upper caste men that either depicted Dalits as victims who needed to be “saved” or as exploited “unequals”.
This film breaks this problematic duality by taking the narrative far wide and away from the saviour complexities to highlight caste dynamics in the most powerful ways.
It shows Bharti and Priya importantly, as colleagues, as ‘equals’ who are both victims of caste system but in starkly different ways. Geeli Pucchi has given enough to chew on queer love especially between two women of different castes, a rare inspection missing within anti-caste discourse as well.
Each frame and dialogue in the film humanises both the characters, crucial essence of this Geeli Pucchi- sit-down conversations, vulnerabilities and navigation both have to endure. Bharti knows that her life is difficult- in spite of her merit, diligence and grit she will continue to fight and claim public space for herself which she is ready to champion at any cost. For Priya, there is no escape from the mundaneness of her life- whether or not she works, her primary obligation is expected to be towards her family, husband and procreation.
Through subtle but clear anecdotes, the intimacy between Bharti and Priya that are navigating their love towards one another as well as caste becomes clear. Their worlds are polar opposite to each other, often intersecting between growing attraction, fondness, friendship, love and even competition.
Certainly, there are aspects of the film that can be looked critically- the butch and femme aspect of queer relationship that stands out, the casting of ‘darker’ skinned actor as Dalit and fair complexioned actor as an dominant caste- it is not the film that can fight all the battles while it has significantly checked boxes that many other films on marginalised sections such as Madam Chief Minister, Laxmii, Article 15, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, White Tiger struggled to accomplish.
Geeli Pucchi is a piece of art- a beautiful, multilayered storytelling that has given hope to many like myself, who never imagined to find representation in the mainstream cinema, the uncanniness of Dalit queer life through a feminist lens- it is a film that has aspired to a sensitive and nuanced story telling. It has given hope to many of us to reclaim the cinema landscape not just for us alone but to also raise pertinent questions on intersectionality, and its connections with caste, gender and queerness.
This film has set the seed for directors to go beyond their caste, class comforts to create an honest space for intersectional and inclusive filmmaking and cinema.
(Jyotsna Siddharth is an actor, artist, activist and writer. They are a founder of Project Anti Caste Love and a recipient of Chevening Scholarship (2014 -15))
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