Whether [as a member of a] community or as an individual, I'm coming to realize that I define the parameters of what is home rather than accepting some prescribed definition of home and community. The communities that we claim as our base represent a place of negation, power struggles, petty jealousies and exclusion rather than space for affirmation. As a lesbian of mixed race ancestry, I have experienced negation and exclusion both in the lesbian of colour community and in the broader Caribbean community. Many of us claim to be politically progressive as feminists, as lesbians, as people of colour, et cetera. But our political ideals are limited and cease to be truly transformational when we do not take responsibility for our actions, and when we do not put our politics and theory into practice in terms of how we relate with each other.
As a filmmaker, home is something that is in a sense indirectly central to my work. Some of the central themes of my next film are about reclaiming history and [recounting] stories of Indo-Caribbean experience. [This is done] in the form of a visual journey, both literal and symbolic, and it combines the autobiographical, which is my experience of emigrating to Canada at the age of twelve from Guyana and not having actually returned to the Caribbean until the spring of next year. In a sense, I don't consider Canada truly my home despite living here for twenty years, and Guyana is only my home to the extent that I was born there. Given that I've changed and that Guyana has changed, there is a kind of a problematic and fragmented relationship of not quite belonging.
As I said before, how one understands one's reality and one's [identity], particularly around the notion of home, is a constantly shifting thing. This film about faith is both an autobiographical, personal and political event. It combines the historical use of film that is neither an historical document or a personal account. What it is instead is a fusion of the autobiographical, historical and experiential in a kind of a poetical and meditative style.
I think that as diasporic Asians, we hunger for images which in some ways reflect our dreams, desires and realities.
One of the last lines of the film Democracy in Crisis? is that "India should look inwards for solutions." Meaning they should be self-reflective. Meaning that the people should start changingthe system. Within the chaos I showed the layers of problems, all things happenning, which is seemingly chaotic but in fact has a certain order to it. It's how you interpret it. And certainly a filmmaker is not a person who gives answers to any of the problems of this world. I can only raise contradictions.
In any society there is a lot of contradiction, politically. Take Canada for example; when I reached Montreal, I heard about all these things about separatism. This kind of contradiction and ambiguity is present in Canada as well as in India; you have to recognize it. We can't be cynical about it. All we can hope is to understand the roots of these ambiguities and contradictions, and an awareness will, hopefully, finally, bring about some kind of a dialogue in the process, and bring about a much more equal system. I think until that equal system comes about there will always be this contradiciton.
This is the first time I made a current affairs program, meaning that I had no interaction with the people who I went out and shot. It was very male dominated. Every time you started with a woman they'd say, "Turn off the camera, this woman knows nothing. I'll tell you what's going on." People were pushing the women all the time. [Indian politics is] male dominated, totally, because it's based on religion, and religion is male politics.
I hope by the time you've seen the two clips, especially the second one, that you'll go home feelingtinglingand happy—anyway, the women may, I don't know about the men. I want to just start off with a few remarks about what I'm going to say. It's not a theoretical exploration of how we look at images, and I'm not speaking as a film theorist or about to present a paper on deconstructing particular filmic texts for the lesbian presence. Instead, my observations and impressions and anecdotes are gleaned from sitting around with other South Asian lesbians on long winter evenings in England and watching Hindi movies. Fast forwarding the boring, predictable, comic scenes, or the painfully long and languorous heterosexual seduction scenes, but rewinding or slowing down the dance sequences with Rekha in Umrao Jaan, or moaning with delight at Parveen Babi singing to Hema Malini in Razia Sultan.
I think that as diasporic Asians, we hunger for images which in some ways reflect our dreams and our desires and our realities. Media representations are a critical component of our identities, particularly for those of us who are perceived to be on the margins of the mainstream, the malestream, and the whitestream. Our need for reflections of ourselves and our communities is pivotal to our survival. As cultural outsiders, representations of ourselves, both on the big screen and on the small screen, are important in shaping our sense of self. For lesbians and gay men the ability to make oneself heard or seen, and the ability to alter what others hear and see, is also very necessary. For many of us, Hindi films play a crucial role, especially for those of us whose links with our ancestral homeland are historically and geographically distant.
I just want to say something about the Indian film industry, which today is the largest in the world, in terms of the annual film production. In 1990, India produced over 800 films, which is more than two per day. It's the Hindi films made in Bombay that have a wide appeal to South Asians scattered around the globe, providing a cultural and a linguistic connection. For many people these films not only keep alive memories of home, but also sometimes provide reference points for creating notions of Indianness in different cultural contexts.
As South Asian lesbians, we have a great stake in media representation. Many young women form a sense of their lesbian identity from media representations. But what is it that they actually see? Lesbians of all and any colour, culture, and ethnicity have been singularly unrepresented or obliterated from any and every media. In mainstream Hollywood films, lesbians have appeared primarily as predatory icons, in such a film as The Cat People, or The Killing of Sister George, or bitter, old, angry spinsters, or lost, confused, pathologically deranged women. Inevitably all these images have been of white women. Black lesbians or lesbians of colour have been completely absent. But what we want is not equal time on the screen, but much more importantly, we're concerned with how we are portrayed on film, because this affects our ability to affirm a lesbian sexuality and existence, and also reflects and shapes our concept of our sexuality. As lesbians of colour, we have a desire to see ourselves on the screen within our own cultural contexts, with the signs and symbols which have resonances in our childhood, our families, and communities.