Review: Pramada Menon’s New Documentary Exemplifies Female Queer Experiences In India

Posted on September 18, 2016 in Culture-Vulture, LGBTQ, Media, Staff Picks

By Edwin Thomas:

Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival And Forum 2016 that is going on in Delhi (13th – 20th September), Youth Ki Awaaz will be featuring reviews of films and interviews with directors. This year’s theme is “Reflections and Ruminations.” Scroll down for schedule details.

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Coming out to oneself is considered to be a central part of the queer experience(s). It takes the key step wherein one’s own sexuality catches up to personal acceptance and perhaps public realisation. But to interact with a space that is largely not forgiving of non-heteronormative identities make this exercise all the more difficult than it is supposed to be. Throw in the competing queer identities in a patriarchal landscape and you can easily understand why the ‘lesbian’ has been ‘other-ed’ for the longest time.

The documentary “And You Thought You Knew Me” by queer feminist Pramada Menon seeks to explore this/these other-ed identity/identities and help one re-imagine and relearn all what we have ever known about lesbian identities. With the life stories of five very different lesbian women, the documentary seeks to weave numerous chronological stories against the background of an imposing Delhi. The constant back and forth between personal shots of the interviewee and the nation’s capital successfully reminds the viewer of how being queer is a private and public matter, all at the very same time – even if it means erasing oneself from a public space to be invisible.

To be ‘a’ lesbian and not just lesbian as we would treat the word ‘gay’ establishes how ‘thing-ified’ this queer identity has become in the face of dominant cis gay voices. The stories are different because the women are different, be it the divorcee who explains how identity which is centred around a heterosexual relationship (her marriage fell apart after she realised what it meant to be queer); to the drag king lesbian woman who chooses to express herself in words and gender performance that is distinct in itself. But what seems to be common is a constant struggle to reclaim the public realm of Delhi without ever having to consciously set out to do that.

While the documentary definitively attempts to trace historicity and juxtapose it against queer history in India, giving a separate-but-not-apart feeling, the very act of chronologically narrativising personal narratives seems to be a slightly fractured attempt. This is because the filmmaker seems to have gone to great depths to get out stories in a naturally Indian flavour by using a Western palette of chronology. At one point, the documentary literally charted the course of queer history using the voice-over of a personal story as a backdrop.

But if that’s what it takes to get these stories across in a relatable form, then that mission has been accomplished to that effect. If anything, “And You Thought You Knew Me” shatters all notions of what it means to know oneself while helping Delhi come out to its lesbian self. To have female voices exemplify queer experiences is crucial to our debates and Menon does a good job to keep it front-and-center.

Catch Pramada Menon’s film “And You Thought You Knew Me” at 10.15 am on September 19 at India International Centre. To see the full Open Frames Festival programme, click here.

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