The Porous Border of Gender in “Please Mind the Gap,” Or Anshuman: An Identity in Transition

An interesting border, if I may say so, of ‘gender’ is navigated in one of the most deftly made short-films exhibiting and highlighting the concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community – Please Mind the Gap.  And, our navigator is Anshuman, a transman.

I happen to watch, Please Mind The Gap – a short film by Mitali Trivedi and Gagandeep Singh at the Open Frame Film Festival held at India International Centre, New Delhi. It was probably the autumn of 2016 when I met Manjeesh Rana, the cinematographer of this film (who weirdly happens to be the teacher of my, then fellow theatre artist, lawyer friend), at the Jagran Film Festival at Siri Fort Auditorium. He invited me for the screening and I cannot thank him enough for the amazing experience I had both watching this and other movies as the festival decided to showcase all movies on sexual diversity in a jam-packed C. D. Deshmukh Auditorium of IIC, on a Sunday afternoon.

The movie is shot in the Delhi Metro itself. I see a parallel between the journey which Anshuman takes during his daily commute in the Delhi Metro and the journey of transition he faced in becoming a transman.

[Transman, for those of you who don’t know or cannot make out from the word itself, means a person who were assigned gender female at birth but were not comfortable in their own skin because they always felt like a man either gets operated or starts to live their lives as a man. Hence, a transition from their assigned gender role to the one they desire.]

The film is a rumination of how a transman, in a conservative society like India and in a public transport like Delhi metro, locates and navigates his individuality and performs his sexual identity.

“The first car in the moving direction is reserved for ladies. Male passengers are requested not to board the coach reserved for ladies. Doing this is a punishable offence.”

We hear the female voice over during the running time of the film. And, there hops in our protagonist in the metro. Little did the audience know that they are about to witness a transition. The notion of travelling the ‘ladies coach’ was naturalised to the core of Anshuman that he boarded the same, only to realise in a few seconds, that he doesn’t belong here.

And, he shyly and confidently decides to stride ahead to the next coach. He may have shyly switched the metro coach but he definitely boldly accepted who he is. And, continues to perform his newly identified sexual identity.

This short-film is conversational, humorous, and hard-hitting at the same time. The lively Anshuman won’t, even for a second, make you feel the internal conflicts he would have, bravely, faced. Rebuke he would have tolerated and the negotiations he would have have to make in order to perform his sexual identity.

Anshuman

We learn through him, in the film, how he is faced with a conundrum to choose which security check to enter. There are certain glances which he braves each day when he enters through a ‘Male’ security check.

In a shocking encounter, he is narrating an incident what he heard when two male passengers who boarded the metro started passing derogatory comments on him and it is almost condemnable when one of them inquiries, “How to confirm?” (Suggesting whether he is a ‘Him’ or a ‘Her’)
The other responds almost mindlessly, “Hit on the chest – you’ll know.” Saying this, they giggle.

But none of these incidents seems to diminish the liveliness in our hero. He is humorous and witty!
He deals with situations almost daily and we learn through him how he deftly avoids entering security check when he is with his friends – he is mindful of their gender and knows that, that is a ‘tricky situation’ now. He waits for a while and then a little left-right-left and closely observing from a distance, the way guards are checking. And, after calculating all the risks, he enters.

[In Delhi Metro, if you happen to be male and entering through a security check, you might have observed a few security guards almost touching you from top to bottom. Especially hitting you on your chest and pressing your behind. I find it extremely uneasy myself.]

Bold and confident for we hear him say, ‘NALSA aa gaya hai ab ye jane wala nahi’ (NALSA – Transgender Bill, is here to stay now) to a roar of support and applause from the audience.

It is only when you are carefully following Anshuman throughout this film while the announcements in the Delhi Metro, dextrously incorporated, are serving as the music, that you will realise the hint of fear and hope in his eyes.

Here I would like you, my reader, to be with me.

Would you, for a minute, like to imagine the internal turmoil of a person who has to face such remarks on a day-in and day-out basis for they do not belong to the gender binary?

Even now, in post-377 India, there is a ‘mind-set’ concern and a question of ‘acceptance’. For the Indian society, there happens to be only two poles in the gender geography and they’re striking in contrast – Male and Female. And, these are so oppressively naturalised that all those who don’t feel comfortable in their assigned gender in their adult life face an ‘obvious humiliation’.

A person placing himself/herself/hirself/themselves outside the gender-binary, they have to face the wrath of society. They invite troubles from family, friends, school, college, and of course, workplace. There is a series of negotiation which a person belonging to an alternative sexuality has to make – I’m detailing the two which never escapes from the negotiation period:
Firstly, accept for who they are.
Secondly, wait for the acceptance from their immediate family members.

Because there seems to be a control, by our parents and society at large, on our sexual performance. The assigned gender at birth takes precedence to the one we choose. And, we are naturally expected to behave in that way. Wear, talk, walk, eat, and perform our sexual preferences in a way as outlined in the gender manifesto by our society. It is this control which is demonstrated by the bullies in the metro in this film.

As a transman and living a life of his own choice, Anshuman rejects being accepted. It’s his acceptance which matters the most. And, it is his boldness and determination to live a life of his own, come what may, which triumphs in the end in this film which takes us to an actual journey in the Delhi Metro during closure. The tiny beautiful things which we happen to miss or ignore when we are on our way to go to college, work, to meet a friend and/or our lover.

And, as the saying goes, “Journey is important than destination.”It surely is and Anshuman is a journey which we celebrate in Please Mind the Gap.

Anshuman – An identity in transition

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