‘Sheer Qorma’ Muslim Indian love story breaks barriers

Award-winning non-binary Indian Parsi filmmaker Faraz Arif Ansari is breaking barriers again with his new film, “Sheer Qorma”.

“I think the film itself is revolutionary in a lot of ways,” said Ansari, 31, who wrote and directed the short. “I don’t think a movie like this has ever been made in India.”

The film is a 30 minute love story about two gay Muslim women and the love between a mother and her daughter; 95% of it was produced and created by women. Swara Bhaskar plays one of the women, Sitara, and Divya Dutta, a trans woman, plays Saira, Sitara’s girlfriend.

“I think for the first time in India that a cisgender female role is played by a trans actor,” Ansari said.

The Bay Area Reporter interviewed Ansari, who is best known for his 2017 award-winning gay silent film, “Sisak”, in Mumbai in January 2020. At the time, Ansari was putting the finishing touches on “Sheer Qorma” in preparation for his then released in March 2020, before the global COVID-19 pandemic struck. The film was released for over a year. It will premiere at the Frameline Film Festival this weekend.

“’Sheer Qorma’ is pretty much the least represented community group in the world right now,” Ansari said. “No one has ever made a film about gay Muslim women, so as soon as they see them in a hijab, they become uncomfortable.”

Ansari said he received death threats when the film’s first poster was released.

“The minute you put sexuality and faith in the same sentence, people get uncomfortable,” Ansari said, but they don’t back down.

Fight hate with love and cinema
Ansari, a Muslim, believes that the queer Muslim community not only needs more representation, but also “good representation”. Islamophobia was growing increasingly fierce across India after the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, known as the CAA, which was accompanied by the National Registration of Citizens Act, known as the NRC. The laws, along with the transgender law, passed around the same time, created a trifecta that some LGBTQ Indians say negatively impacted the Indian transgender community, further marginalizing the community before the global pandemic. .

Irritated by the laws, Indian minority communities demonstrated en masse across the country in early 2020. Some protesters were killed by Indian police at the time.

“Just because you’re a Muslim, your citizenship is on the line right now,” said Ansari, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University. “What kind of government is doing this? We know that it all happened in Germany.

The way Islam and Muslims are portrayed in the media, especially in the West, “is nothing like my family,” Ansari said, stating that they were brought up believing that Islam was one. religion of peace, a religion of love “.

Muslim stories must be told in the face of the rise of Islamophobia around the world, in India and within the Indian LGBTQ community, Ansari said. “In India, within the queer community, there is a lot of Islamophobia,” they said.

Ansari feels through the film that they can make changes and develop a movement of love.

“In this film, I’m trying to explore a different aspect of love… it goes to a new dimension called intimacy, which people are so afraid of,” Ansari said.

They realized the potential of this power during a screening of “Sisak” in Bangalore. Ansari said they watched younger siblings in the audience, a sibling, who held hands and cried throughout the film.

Later that evening, Ansari received an Instagram message from the sister. “After watching your movie, my brother came home and he went out to our parents,” Ansari said in the post. “After all these years, he’s sleeping peacefully in the room next to me while I type this message for you because you had the courage to make this movie.”

“So, if used correctly, [moviemaking] could be a massive movement of acceptance and love, “Ansari said.” That’s when I think I realized I have a responsibility that transcends art. “

Ansari thinks “Sheer Qorma” is coming at the right time. “I feel like the world needs a giant hug given where we are and what’s going on,” they said.

Make ‘Sheer Qorma’
Ansari’s vision for the film grew out of an evening spent with a Harvard lesbian group after the screening of “Sisak” several years ago. An unidentified non-binary member of a lesbian group took issue with Ansari over his decision to create a film about two gay men instead of two gay women during the film’s discussion period, they said.

Ansari agreed with the questioner, as a storyteller, “you should always aim to broaden your horizons,” they said.

“I realized queer women are one of the most marginalized [and] communities less represented in world cinema, especially a queer woman of color, ”added Ansari, noting that queer Muslim women of color are even“ less represented ”.

Soon after, Ansari spent two years working extensively within the Indian transgender community. The work led to another awakening to their privilege as an individual with a cis-male body.

“It really made me question my privilege,” said Ansari, who had previously identified as gay but was found to be non-binary in the process. “I realize that there are a lot of privileges attached to your gender, especially when you are a man.”

Their experience, in addition to being influenced by the Hollywood reshuffle with the #MeToo, #Timesup and #OscarsSoWhite movements, took them to the challenge of diversity and storytelling.

“When I got a chance in my movie, I said, ‘Be the person doing this,’” Ansari said. They decided to hire an all-female team and chose a transgender woman as one of the partners of the Muslim lesbian couple.

“A trans woman playing a cisgender woman, which is a first … that’s how we open conversations. This is how we push inclusion,” Ansari said.

However, there was no trans Muslim Indian actress. Ansari held three drama workshops in the transgender community to find Dutta, who could properly portray a Maharashtrian Muslim woman from the small Parsi community who migrated from Persia, now modern Iran, to India. centuries ago.

“The person must have a certain appearance [and] speak with a certain dialect, “Ansari said, adding that it was” very difficult for me to find an actor who fits this bill and who is also trans. “

Trans-India COVID relief
Ansari continues to support the trans-Hijra community in India. Parivar Bay region is a Frameline community partner for “Enby Love”, the collection of shorts featuring Ansari’s “Sheer Qorma”. Parivar Bay Area is a locally based South Asian trans queer organization.

Anjali Rimi, co-founder and president of Parivar Bay Area, is pleased that the organization is a community partner of the screening.

“The fact [is] that many of us are still very [exist] on the fringes … directly within our community, ”said Rimi, 41, a pansexual woman with trans experience. “A lot of dialogue needs to take place and what better way to creatively represent it than Faraz has actually brought this film together for us.”

She hopes the screening will raise awareness among the trans-Hijra Indian community.

Rimi hopes the partnership will not only raise awareness of the marginalization of the diverse and gender-non-compliant Indian community, but also contribute to the COVID relief efforts from the Parivar Bay area to the trans-Hijra community of the. India. The Indian trans community has suffered in relative silence throughout the global pandemic, Rimi said.

“India’s trans-Hijra communities have not been spared,” Rimi said of the pandemic. “They were further marginalized.”

The community has received little to no outside support from Indian organizations or celebrities in Bollywood and Hollywood to draw attention to their needs, said Rimi, who would like these communities to join their relief and recovery efforts. COVID. Indian trans-Hijra communities have jointly banned creating their own COVID relief and recovery efforts.

Through its efforts and network, Parivar Bay Area has been able to help transgender Indians returning home through its Save trans Indian lives ALLINDIA, or SITAL, initiative. Rimi hopes the Frameline partnership will bring attention to India’s trans-Hijra community and help the Parivar Bay region reach the first phase of their $ 400,000 fundraising goal by providing $ 175,826 to provide COVID relief to trans-Hijra communities in India.

“We need to raise around $ 400,000 to support all of these people,” said Rimi, who moved to the United States 20 years ago, of the greater need beyond the current campaign.

As of June 22, the organization had raised $ 102,886 towards its goal for the organization’s SITAL. The program coordinates with 28 other Indian trans-Hijra organizations. SITAL provided 12,000 transgender families with twice-monthly food kits, shelter, COVID protection, medical kits and even financial assistance, giving 1,500 rupees (about $ 20) per transgender person in addition to 1,500 rupees issued by the Indian government, she said.

Parivar Bay Area has also directly helped over 25 trans women start small businesses and retrained women to create products they can sell online at. Parivar Bazaar after their livelihoods were wiped out by COVID, she said.

The short film series is also in partnership with Gender Spectrum and the Roxie Theater.

“Pure Qorma,” streams Friday June 25 at 7:30 pm The digital projection is available until June 27. Tickets cost $ 10 per person.

Do you have any advice on international LGBTQ news? Call or email them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp: 415-517-7239, Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected]

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