Meet Garima Kaul, young filmmaker focusing on identities of marginalised communities, as she explores her own
The mild mannered Garima Kaul whose documentary on asexuals ‘Desire?’ has drawn attention world-wide comes across as well-read, committed and a sensitive filmmaker
She looks young and inexperienced, but her work is not a job of an inexperienced person. Her choice of topics to make films on is quite offbeat- I had said to myself.
Here’s this young Kashmiri girl, Garima Kaul, who has suddenly drawn attention world wide for a film on a niche community of ‘asexuals’. Most of us may not even be aware of the term, let alone acknowledge that it's a community living within our society. That’s why Garima fascinated me.
She is young, alright, but not inexperienced, for sure. Gradually, she starts talking and there unfolds a story behind why she could choose such unique topics for making her documentaries.
Starting with a film (which was a students’ film at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences) on BMC workers who were struggling for their rights, she went on to make a film on the sex workers from Kamathipura. Both films were appreciated and taken note of in the international documentary circles, but what moved her the most was the BMC workers’ response.
“As they say, those who have less tend to give you more, the BMC workers were very supportive when we were making a film on them. Some who were selling Vada Pavs to earn their living, they brought it for us on shoots, the auto drivers gave us lifts across the city. They were extremely warm and helpful...when they won their rights after 27 years of fight, they showcased our film and we danced and ate together to celebrate the victory!” Garima beams.
How come a film on asexuals?
“Well, even I did not know that such a term existed, until one of my acquaintances talked about it. When I first heard about it, I, who considered myself a liberal and open minded person, was kind of taken aback. Is it normal, natural or a biologically anomaly? I started asking these questions trying my best to not pathologise it. And gradually I started thinking about the kind of struggles and trauma these people would have to endure in a world where their existence is not even acknowledged!”
So, who are asexuals?
“It’s simple actually. People who don’t naturally want or have the urge to be sexually intimate with their partners are asexuals. The phenomenon is old but people have started acknowledging it fairly recently. The term ‘asexual’ actually came into being in the early 2000s.”
But in India, surely we must have had some such term in ancient texts or mythology?
“Might be, but in current times asexuals have received quite a tragically indifferent treatment. In fact it often takes some time for the individual to come to terms with his/her desires and verbalize their orientation. (Well, that’s why, the title of her documentary is ‘Desire?’) I have met people who went for counselling and therapy, were pumped in with hormones, just because they never felt the need to copulate. They were/ are humiliated, they force themselves to have sex, simply because they want to be accepted as normal.
The mild-mannered young girl opens up, “It’s so difficult for people to be able to even live a respectable life with their own identity. Any community which challenges the heteronormative order becomes a threat for the majority, we still haven't been able to accept and respect the transgender community, despite their historical significance in our culture, queer acceptance seems a long road ahead. The identity crisis is the basis of most problems in our society. The dichotomy of "private and public" is lost on us, why can’t we live at peace with another person regardless of their preferences in the bedroom?”
Yes, the identity and threat to that identity are becoming major political issues world wide. As an artist and a creative person, she is well aware of that. “There’s nothing in the society that we can say is not connected with politics. If we say we are not political, we are grossly mistaken. Calling yourself "apolitical" is a political statement in itself. The struggle for identity has always been a breaking point for most communities. There is gender politics, then there’s struggle of the LGBTQ community to establish their identity as a respectable community. The sex workers too want to have a life of dignity...we are trapped in the politics of religion and caste, these are complex political and social struggles that we need to pay attention to...
That brings us to her new project.
"I want to go back and trace my roots," says Garima who belongs to the second generation of Kashmiri migrants who have never been to Kashmir, which is really sad. “Yes, it is. I know Kashmir through my parents’ stories, their memories. I want to trace them back. Not to make a jarring political statement, but to tell a human story."
But as she said, there is nothing which is not linked to politics. Even memories are, or they are twisted to be. “Yes I am aware of it. It’s a sensitive subject, but I want to do it, and do justice to it...”
This subject is again closely linked to the identity of a community, of people who were suddenly uprooted from a place. Aren’t we all migrants in that sense? Uprooted from our homeplace in search of job, living, education?
We are, but a forced migration and to not be able to go back to one’s roots is painful. Garima’s work somehow seems to revolve around the various issues of identity, which seems very complex. But well, aren’t we all constantly trying to explore, understand and express our identities?
The good thing about Garima is that she understands the complexity of the subject. She understands how difficult but necessary it is to communicate these issues. Articulate, enthusiastic, liberal, and aware, she is the kind of young person who would hold hope in any democratic country, more so in ours where half-informed, prejudiced, and narrow-minded outbursts of a frenzied youth have become a fashion. I wish her luck. May we have more of such young and promising filmmakers!