Guwahati: The LGBTQ community has historically struggled to be accepted all over the world. While many areas are becoming more accepting, India has been a bit slower to change its ways. Until September 2018, homosexual acts were still punishable by law. While this reversal in criminality is a fantastic step in the right direction, the LGBTQ community is still not celebrated as it is in some other areas. Although Pride events have taken place in Guwahati since 2014, the 2019 event was the first one after the decriminalisation of consensual homosexual acts. However, festivals and marches are not the only way to shine a light on the Assam community. Assamese film Junaki Porua hopes to continue highlighting the challenges that LBGTQ citizens face in India, especially Assam.
As first-time director, producer, and actor, these three individuals have provided a superb film that more seasoned filmmakers are in awe. The film that traces the visceral journey of a trans woman coming to terms with her identity, is so well received that Benjamin Daimary has been honoured with the Best Actor in a lead role award at South Asia’s biggest queer film festival — 11th Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival 2020 — for his performance.
This is Daimary’s breakout role, and it seems to be a perfect match. He says, “I always want to to be a voice for rights. Receiving a global award I think I will have that now, and I can influence more people like me to come out from the closet and to be who they are and just explore the world.” This film has solidified his place as a voice for the community he holds dear to his heart. He wants to be an advocate and a voice for the voiceless. He has fulfilled this wish, and he will only grow from here.
Director Prakash Deka, actor Daimary and producer Milin Dutta all had personal reasons for trying to remove the LGBTQ stigma. Daimary is gay, and Dutta was born female but transitioned to male when he realised his birth-assigned gender was not true to who he was. Both of these individuals come from very different backgrounds as far as acceptance of their truths were concerned. Daimary probably had the most relaxed time coming out to his family. Deka has always wanted to highlight the issues of the LGBTQ community through films. National Film Award winning Assamese sing-songwriter, composer, and music director Tarali Sarma deserves a special mention for adding her magical touch to the film with her music.
Daimary realised at an early age that he was different from other boys. He enjoyed more feminine activities, and his mother encouraged him to be himself. He was confused about what that meant for him. However, at the age of 14, he discovered that he was gay. Deka says, “I have always wanted to make a film based on LGBTQIA story, as I have seen many queer people in my village who could never come out due to the heightened stigma on homosexuality.”
Even though the stigma is fading in many parts of the world, like Deka’s village of Bartala in Nalbari still have strong conservative ties. Breaking down the barriers and stigma will not be easy. Junaki Porua, which translates to fireflies in English, has lit up the film world. It is receiving accolades all over the globe.
The film is not meant to vilify the small villages and towns across India. On the contrary, it is meant to expose the realities and support the needs of transgender communities in several towns and villages. The world as a whole still treats trans people as others. In conservative Indian villages, this is sometimes harsher than in larger, more liberal cities across the world.
Daimary is also a surprising choice for lead actor. He has never held the lead role in a film. Though he is not transgender, as a gay male, he would have suffered many of the same challenges that Milin Dutta and others like him have. He would have received ridicule, estrangement, and chastisement from his local community. He has had good experiences with his family, but even his dad was unsure about accepting his son’s sexuality. He has come to terms with it in many ways, but it seemed that his father had the hardest time with Daimary’s coming out as gay.
Some, like him, have been estranged from family and friends because they could not reconcile their belief in the right to be gay with their love for a family member. This is an incredibly difficult situation for many citizens of India, and progress is still slow to develop. Daimary notes, “Society has always problem with everyone, it’s not about only LGBTQ. For example: a girl can’t laugh out loud because a girl is always meant to be quiet. Showing skin is a problem; being you is a problem. Society has problems for every single reason. We’ve a long way to go, and we are going for it.”
He is conscious of the notion that equality is a long time coming. Society can no longer continue to hold back its members. He wants to help foster a better society for everyone, LGBTQ or not.
This film is something the three of them can be proud of producing. Not only will it offer the local community an insight into the plight of its citizens, but it will also make connections for many around the world. The film has received appreciations and recognitions across the globe, though each of these participants was new to the filmmaking industry. This proves that no matter what your experience may be in an industry, if you have a story to tell or talent to share, it should be showcased. These three have brought an enormously vital concept to the masses. It may receive some backlash, as most LGBTQ films will, but the beauty of Junaki Porua will outshine the critics.
Since LGBTQ acceptance has struggled so much in India, the cast and crew of Junaki Porua hope that the film will catapult the issue into the mainstream consciousness of the citizens. India has had an LGBTQ movement and community for quite some time, but they have not experienced the positive growth that this film has the potential to provide. Watch the film and see what life is like for many people seeking to live their authentic lives.
Click below to watch the trailer: