What do we talk about when we talk about gender and sexuality? A range of answers is available from Engaging with Sexualities, an absorbing package of five short films produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust. The films will be screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (July 20-24) in Thiruvananthapuram.

Each of the films is driven by the power of speech. Subjects speak to the camera or are present in the form of voiceovers. By baring their impassioned thoughts and feelings about prevailing codes on gender and sexuality, the characters drive home the point that sometimes, the very act of talking about delicate or difficult subjects can be revolutionary. This is possibly the starting point of acceptance, understanding and tolerance.

In A Safe Person to Talk To, director Navdeep Sharma interviews a 16-year-old student from a school in South Delhi. The trans character, identified only by the initials YV, is present only as a voiceover that is laid over general visuals of the school students. YV was never felt comfortable identifying with either male or female students (“Gender is like a name – it’s what you associate yourself with”). Social networking sites provide YV with a safe zone for identity exploration, but it is the firm support of a counsellor at the school and later, the principal, that dispels some of the loneliness and confusion.

In Anindya Shankar Das’s Zara Nazar Utha Ke Dekho, too, anonymous male respondents open up a world that is not apparent to the eye. The film explores the furtive nature of cruising for sex, records varied experiences, and emphasises the importance of parks, cinemas, trains, bus stands and public grounds to the act of finding sexual partners. “A public place cuts down a lot of borders that we otherwise have in society,” one of the characters observes. Filmed in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, Zara Nazar Utha Ke Dekho also compares online and offline experiences. Cruising is about “connecting with someone’s vibe”, one man observes. “If I saw them again on Grindr, I might not want to connect with them.”

Zara Nazar Utha Ke Dekho. Courtesy Public Service Broadcasting Trust.
Zara Nazar Utha Ke Dekho. Courtesy Public Service Broadcasting Trust.

Breathe, by Anushka Shivdasani Rovshen and Madhuri Mohindar, similarly underlines the need to honestly discuss problems and concerns that are sought to be brushed under the carpet. Rachna Iyer, from Mumbai, and Swati Agrawal, fro Delhi, talk about handling their mental health conditions, navigating relationships with both women and men, and explaining themselves to the world.

Ajita Banerjie’s I’m Not There puts an interesting spin on migration. Banerjie interviews Sunil Mohan, a trans man who has moved from his home in Kerala to Bangalore to work as a human rights activist. Migration has helped Mohan better understand gender and sexuality, he tells the filmmaker, apart from giving him a community that he didn’t have back home. “We have lost something but built something beyond that,” Mohan says.

I’m Not There. Courtesy Public Service Broadcasting Trust.
I’m Not There. Courtesy Public Service Broadcasting Trust.

The most engaging film in the package features Anshuman, birth name Raksha, nickname Swetanjali Don. Anshuman narrates his experience as a trans man using the Delhi Metro to filmmakers Mitali Trivedi and Gagandeep Singh with candour and humour. Anshuman boldly squeezes himself between other male passengers on the railway network, but is careful to avoid body frisking during the mandatory security drill (he hasn’t fully made the transition yet). Although Anshuman’s narrative is mostly positive, there are dangers too. He struck up a friendship with another trans man during a random encounter on a journey, but had to stay clear from two homophobic men who loudly suggested hitting him on the chest to ascertain his gender. Hence the film’s title: Mind the Gap.