Open Secret

Chinoy
A private screening of Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's latest documentary on Pakistan's transgender community was held in Delhi recently

Maggi has always wanted to be an air hostess but it was not an easy task — growing up in Karachi in the '80s and being confused about her sexuality. Maggi, a transgender, had a day job until recently. However, when her employers learned about her sexual identity, they fired her. Now, Maggi has accepted her current job as a dancer and sex worker. Yet, she hasn't given up the hope of embracing the skies one day.

This is one of the stories in director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's latest documentary film, Transgenders: Pakistan's Open Secret. Her film Saving Face, which chronicled the journey of survivors of acid violence in Pakistan and their subsequent reconstructive surgery, bagged an Oscar in 2012. "Saving Face and Transgenders were filmed simultaneously. While the former was filmed for over a year, the latter was shot in a shorter duration," she says.

Obaid-Chinoy's new film deals with the transgender community of Pakistan, who manage a living through dancing, singing and begging on the streets of Karachi. On her way to Italy to attend the Gucci Women In Film Awards at the Venice Film Festival (where Saving Face is nominated), she talks about Transgenders, which was screened in Delhi on August 26 at a private event held by Engendered, an NGO. "There is a huge population of transgenders in South Asia and a shocking majority of us do not acknowledge them as a third gender," she says.

The documentary revolves around three transgender women: Sana, Karachi's most sought-after transgender dancer who wants to give up the profession after a gruesome gang rape; Chahat, who was abandoned by her middle-class family for her feminine ways; and Maggi. Obaid-Chinoy spent four months with her subjects, during which she entered their comfort zones and surveyed every aspect of their lives, learning about their past, their struggles and how their sexuality has made them feel at different stages of their lives. "We witnessed the dangers that come with their professions and the mistreatment that comes with their social status," she says.

The 53-minute film will release in Pakistan later this year while the Indian release date is still under discussion. "I am confident that the film will impact Indians and Pakistanis in the same way. I hope that it prompts a dialogue about the existing perception of transgender individuals," she says. The story then continues with their struggles to create job opportunities with the Pakistani government. "During the filming of this documentary, the government recognised that transgenders are very effective tax collectors," says Obaid-Chinoy.

Obaid-Chinoy tells us that Sana was lucky enough to secure a job as a tax collector (currently the only official position offered to transgenders) and maintains ties with some of her family members. But Chahat begs for a livelihood and has still not come to terms with her ostracism. Maggi still dreams of flying.

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