I Am Sirat
(Canada, 87 min.)
Dir. Deepa Mehta, Sirat Taneja
Programme: TIFF Docs (World Premiere)
From the ever-empathetic Deepa Mehta comes a collaboration with a trans woman in New Delhi forced to live a double life.
Sirat is deeply torn between her commitment to her mother, aging and in need of live-in care, and a natural desire to live her life as her true female self. Her conservative family members, when made aware of the videos Sirat streams online, has sent thugs to beat her up. Her own mother approved of the violence, prompting Sirat to comment, “The woman who gave birth to me would prefer me to be dead than to live as trans.”
These candid comments come via interviews interspersed with sequences showing how Sirat has been forced to adapt to her family’s disapproval. She lives at home as a man, awakens every morning to attend to her mother and then heads to an apartment she has rented, unbeknownst to her family, where she dresses as the woman she knows she is. She then heads to her job, a good one working for the government, in an office where she is a valued employee. She has friends, both queer and straight, and is plainly happy in her world outside the home, but every time she goes out, she has to remove her makeup and change her clothes before returning to her mother’s house.
As important as the narrative itself is the fact that she controls it entirely. This is Mehta engaging in an act of empowerment, in which a trans woman gets the tools to tell her own story via interviews in which she speaks her truth openly.
Also in the mix are videos of Sirat lip-syncing to Punjabi electronic pop songs containing pointed lyrics expressing the need for personal authenticity and the ways supporting individual freedoms of all kinds of expression can change the world. This is an impressive mix of music, chosen meticulously by Sirat to make a political point. But the fact that the music even exists suggests that Indian society is changing and making space for 2SLBGTQ+ people even if some in India, including Sirat’s family, are not willing to do so. It’s as if Sirat’s personal dilemma reflects the tensions within India itself.
An especially intriguing sequence tracks Sirat attempting to connect to the Hijras, a community once referred to as eunuchs, now defined as men who dress as women and more and more including trans women. But even in the Hijra environment, Sirat experiences resistance. The group won’t accept her until she rejects her first family and moves out of her mother’s house. It’s the same kind of intransigence that dogs Sirat every day.
The doc is shot on a cell phone, which occasionally gives it a jittery quality and less visual texture than something filmed, but it’s worth watching a courageous woman expressing her voice so authentically. Always a ground breaker, Mehta has no problem going to new places to get to the truth.