“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”, Mark Twain’s poignant words resonate with the central truth of our existence, our journey of self-discovery. As individuals, we set out on a journey to find out “who are we?”, a question almost always persistent in our lives. As toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults we are time and again asked to explain who we are and what we want from life. For some of us, the question is far simpler to answer where we have been able to gauge our identity with considerable ease. We know what we want out of our lives, we have ambitions and goals, we understand ourselves and if fortunate enough are surrounded by individuals who would support us in our endeavors. However, the journey is not a path of roses for all who grapple with the constraints they are surrounded within almost every breathing second of their life whether it is with their socio-economic constraints or a dysfunctional family, for that matter their own identity. The Trans community, over the years, have been severely under-represented and the public opinion surrounding them, have heavily stereotyped in the absence of adequate education and sensitization towards the community. Amid an existing negative mindset in the public, to be able to embrace one’s identity and progress is a herculean but not an impossible task.
Prakash Deka’s first directorial venture “Jonaki Porua” (fireflies) is a testimony of the journey of a trans woman belonging to an interior Assamese Village. Produced by Milin Dutta starring the fresh-faced Benjamin Diamary in the lead, the title of the film “Fireflies” becomes a metaphor for its protagonist who navigates her life in her light.
Jahnu (Benjamin Diamary) lives with her sister Jumu (Bitopi Dutta) and elder brother Baba in a remote village by the banks of the river Brahmaputra in Assam, Northeast India. Jahnu, who was assigned a male at birth, discovers herself as a woman from within as she grows up and dreams of starting her life once again. Frightened of being outcasted from the village and their revelation would bring dishonour to the family Jumu, decided to never disclose her identity as a queer woman to her parents and feels Jahnu would also have to live a painful life. Baba, their elder brother is also not happy with their gender non-conformist siblings and believes that they have brought dishonour to the family. Discovery of Jahnu’s relationship with Palash by the villagers brought more trouble to her life. With Palash refusing to continue the relationship, Jahnu had then to decide what she would do with her life. Whether she would remain silent of her identity and accept the social norms or proudly live with the truth.
Milin Dutta, Producer of the Film
The movie is straightforward and honest in its portrayal of a trans woman’s journey in accepting her identity and overcoming the barriers that the conventional social construct has put before her. It is raw yet poignant in its portrayal, something almost rare in cinemas these days without adding superfluous dance sequences or dramatics to glamorize or commercialise a rather sensitive subject, one that has been handled with maturity, love, and sensitivity. Jonaki Porua, as mentioned earlier, is not just Prakash Deka’s directorial debut but a first for its producer Milin Dutta, as well, united in their passion to bring about a positive change in the Trans community specifically in the North East, given the negligence it faces in mainstream media. A first for its protagonist Benjamin Diamary, Benjamin can depict the ordeal of being a trans woman in a backward society with a sparkling innocence that can attract the audience almost immediately. The audience is gravitated towards her, sympathise and empathize with her as she treads on to make a life of her own. The sheer portrayal of the derogation and mockery by the villagers lashed out at the protagonist depicted the true society in which we live.
Milin Dutta in his interview at the Twin Cities Film Festival said that he is an accidental producer and his sheer interest in the project made him a producer. He said that he went to the Kamakhya Temple in Assam and met a trans woman belonging to the “Hijra” community. He could experience their struggles as he talked with them and that night sitting at a cocktail party Prakash Deka brought the topic to him and told him that he was always interested in the topic and wanted to create a movie (a piece of art) on this topic. After discussing with him about the film and the topic Milin couldn’t hold his enthusiasm and they jumped into making it a success. Milin always stresses on the fact that he wanted to create a form of art which is very real and not superficial. Indeed, the film appears very real and not artificial.
The film has been received with immense love and outpouring support from within the community and shown at various film festivals across the world. The film is a must-watch and as Milin said: “When the society will become inclusive then only their film will be meaningful”.