Nagarkirtan by Kaushik Ganguly

Nagarkirtan is a 2017 Indian film starring Ritwick Chakraborty and Riddhi Sen in lead roles, along with Bidipta Chakraborty and others. The film was written and directed by Kaushik Ganguly and stars Riddhi Sen as Parimal, a transgender woman from rural Bengal, and Ritwick Chakraborty as Madhu, a flute player from the Kirtaniya town of Nabadwip. Kaushik Ganguly won a National Film Award and the movie received four other awards at the 65th National Film Awards: Special Jury, Best Actor, Best Costume, and Best Makeup Artist.

The story revolves around the love and relationship between Parimal and Madhu. Beautifully shot and scored, we also see a lot of flashback scenes where Puti is at her home. As an audience, you can almost feel the tension as Puti struggles to find peace with the way life is treating her. Parimal, a transwoman leaves her home to join a group of transgender women. She identifies as Puti, and sings at Kolkata traffic signals to earn her living. She encounters Madhu while living with the gang of transgender women, and she falls in love with him.

She was eventually confronted by the prejudiced reality that till date continues to be the horrible fate of most transgender individuals in India. The film does clearly show how all we privileged folks look away from the discomforting sight of a transgender person clapping and begging or knocking on our car windows. The movie goes beyond all the assumptions we all hold about transgender people and that they are all just people – like any of us! We see glimpses of their world, the gangs of transgender people, the new people joining the gangs, disowned by family and friends, and ostracised by the whole society.

It is quite a heart-wrenching experience to watch this film as the relationship between them and reality gives a tremendously real and humane portrayal of queer relationships living in the margins. Another thing that makes the movie moving is the brilliant work by the cinematographer, Sirsha Ray, and the music direction by Prabuddha Banerjee. The lovemaking scene between Madhu and Puti, where he sees her undressed for the first time, is quite an aesthetic passion-play with a well-thought out background score.

One of the core issues with the movie was that it was largely a cisgender person’s perspective and the transgender woman’s role was being played by a cisgender person, Riddhi Sen. Manabi Bandopadhyay, who plays herself in the movie, was given some so needed dialogues given, atl least the subtitling was done pretty preachy. While this aside, the reason behind using a not-so-comfortable word to represent a transgender person, “Eunuch” in the English title, which is The Eunuch and The Flute Player, was quite disheartening.

The best actor award that year at the 65th National Film Awards went to Riddhi Sen for his portrayal of Puti, making him the youngest actor to have won that prestigious award. It also feels like a role stolen from another talented young transgender actor.