The Bhopal-based Ektara Collective has followed up Turup (Checkmate) with another independent film made by a committee of like-minded souls. Ektara Collective believes in a socialist approach that militates against the idea of a movie being shape by brilliant individuals – the all-powerful director, the skilled wordsmith, the scene-stealing actor. Rather, Ektara’s features and short films are drawn from the shared experiences of its members and followers, with the aim being to create its version of an unvarnished cinematic truth.

Ek Jagah Apni (A Place of Our Own) follows a trans woman’s struggle to rent an apartment in Bhopal. A counsellor at a non-government organisation, Laila wants a decent home in a respectable locality. But Laila’s friend Roshni’s observation haunts her: don’t fly too high, all we can hope for is a roof over our heads.

Through the experiences of Laila and Roshni, who cooks and cleans at a government official’s residence, the 123-minute film reveals the hostility and violence visited upon trans people. From bigoted brokers and landlords to a prurient journalist who wants to meet “these kinds of people”, Laila and Roshni face a spectrum of prejudice.

The bias isn’t restricted to mean words. Asked to bend, Laila and Roshni choose to walk with their heads held high – a choice that is never easy, as the film persuasively shows.

Ek Jagah Apni is being shown in the International Competition section at the International Film Festival of Kerala (December 9-16). Apart from Ek Jagah Apni, Mahesh Narayanan’s Ariyippu (Declaration) will compete with 12 other films in the International Competition section.

The film is based on a script by Maheen Mirza and Rinchin with inputs from the lead actors Manisha Soni (as Laila) and Muskan (as Roshni). The barebones production and direct narrative style put Laila and Roshni squarely in the centre. The characters are movingly played by Manisha Soni and Muskan – real-life trans women who appear to be channelling their own experiences.

Muskan is especially good at skewering hypocrisy. I thought he would be genuine, the less-cynical Laila says about one odious gent. He’s genuine alright – a genuine bastard, Roshni retorts.

While Ek Jagah Apni avoids the easy shortcuts taken by activist-minded films, it does demand a leap of faith. Is it really possible that Roshni’s employers don’t know about her trans identity?

The women – brave, forthright, wise – are surrounded by others like them. These refugees from social orthodoxies put on a spirited fight, giving Ek Jagah Apni its poignant undertow.

Ek Jagah Apni (2022).

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In ‘Turup, chess, politics, social tensions, and a film made by committee