As with earlier debates about feminism, discussion of LGBTQIA+ has been seen as dominated by the ‘white bourgeoisie’ in an international context and by their representatives within national debates in countries with largely non-white populations. This film is a contribution to the debate from a specific setting in Kolkata. In Fact . . . sets out its stall to be an authentic statement organised around the stories of three women (and their families and friends) who discuss their lives and their choices which determine how they identify themselves. The film is a ‘medium length’ documentary of 51 minutes, written, directed and photographed by Debalina Majumder. It is produced by Sappho for Equality, an NGO with a mission to address the issues of sexually marginalised women in society. In Fact . . . is currently streaming on MUBI in the UK, alongside two of Majumder’s earlier films which will unfortunately probably disappear before you read this. In Fact . . . has been well received at a number of Indian film festivals but does not, as far as I am aware, have any international distribution apart from streaming on MUBI. I hope that some enterprising UK distributor will find it.
Debalina Majumder is an experienced filmmaker with around eighteen credits as as writer, director and/or cinematographer since 2004. The experience shows in the high quality of the documentary with excellent technical credits and the confident and skilled presentation of the three subjects. In the first section we meet Atreyee who was married to a man and had a son who she took with her when she left the marriage and moved in with Sanghamitra. The boy Tukai, now growing up, accepts that Atreyee is his father figure and Sanghamitra his mother figure. He says that at school he has been teased by classmates about his parents, but he is used to it now and it doesn’t bother him. The couple are estranged from their families and they say that they have got married. As far as I am aware the Union government are opposing the Supreme Court and any state that argues for same sex marriage but clearly it is being practised in West Bengal. Atreyee and Sanghamitra speak eloquently about their relationship from the roof space of their dwelling. Their neighbour appears to shun them, but when they are filmed on the Maidan, where many people gather to enjoy sport and recreation in Kolkata, they appear happy and relaxed. Atreyee now considers his/her identity to be that of a ‘transman’.
The second case study concerns Provat, born a girl but always feeling themselves to be a boy. Her/his parents always wanted a boy and dressed Provat that way. Provat stayed away from school rather than wear a sari. S/he became a successful footballer and eventually developed what s/he describes as a fantasy life with a young woman, but it did not last. S/he has now decided that s/he doesn’t want surgery but is happy with the body s/he has and continues to dress and cut their hair like a young man. Provat’s mother confirms the story and appears happy to support Provat in whatever s/he decides to do.
Provat’s story overlaps with that of the third case study subject, Poushali who fell in love with another girl in her high school and then moved on to university and a Masters in Mumbai. We see her and Provat in a social gathering for LGBTQIA+ people and also out on the streets in Kolkata on a Pride march. We also meet Poushali’s mother Debika who talks about her in supportive ways and feels that her daughter can live as she wishes. At the moment, Poushali says she thinks being an activist and part of a community is what is most important and she wants to keep her sense of identity fluid. She doesn’t describe herself as a lesbian and she sometimes thinks of herself as part of a queer community. She seems to be someone who in the UK might be described as ‘well sussed’. It’s significant perhaps that Poushali is interviewed in a rural setting by the river rather than in the city where we first see her.
Throughout the documentary there is a musical score composed by Anindya Sundar Chakroborti. I did wonder if this might become distracting but I actually enjoyed the score very much and it seemed bridge transitions in the documentary effectively. At points the natural direct sounds are mixed with the score effectively (e.g. the bubbling water in an aquarium). One of the other effective devices is that we see a number of people watching the interviews on TV sets and computer screens in their homes or social spaces. And this is further developed in the lengthy end credits with some careful editing using simple VFX. The overall effect of this is that we get the impression of a wider community in Kolkata prepared to watch the interviews and comment on the relationships in what seems to be a calm and thoughtful way. Overall the documentary suggests that there is a genuine attempt here to consider a society in which people like those interviewed here can live safely with an identity they have chosen. I think this is a successful film, both as a documentary and as a statement.
I did find the subtitles to be a little confusing at times andI noted that sometimes the interviewees used English phrases mixed in with their Bengali speech. I have also made use of a review of the film by Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji that you can find on the website of Our Frontcover. If you have access to MUBI, I very much recommend In Fact . . . Here is the synopsis offered by MUBI:
. . . glimpses of lives that are lived on their own terms and in such living mark their resistance against stifling social norms that threaten to homogenise diversity. A celebration of love and togetherness with a difference; it is a celebration of the struggles to live those differences.