The film is a beautiful work of art. I will clearly mark the point after which this post contains spoilers.
What is it about?
The film is written and directed by Kaushik Ganguly, who is famous for making movies about oppressed classes and sexualities. This particular film is about transgender identity in India.
I have never explored Bengali cinema before. I knew none of the actors in this film but I was totally impressed by the work of the leading actors Riddi Sen and Ritwik Chakraborty. The direction of the film is splendid and the realistic depiction of rural Bengal and Kolkata is absolutely splendid. The film is beautiful visually and artfully created. Here is a beautiful still from the film.
The biggest selling point of the film is the maturity with which it handles a very delicate issue. I have never seen a film that depicts the Kinnar community with such humility. It is truly thoughtful and leaves the audience sympathetic towards the struggles of the non-binary in India. If you want to learn about LGBTQ+ struggles of India, then definitely consider watching this film.
The film follows the relationship of Madhu (played by Chakraborty), who plays flute during religious prayers, and a kinner named Puti (played by Sen). Their on-screen chemistry is very interesting and also very intense. The film also stars Manabi Bandyopadhyay as herself, who is India’s first transgender person to hold a PhD and become a professor. Note that Riddhi Sen is a cis-male in real life and yet manages to capture the non-binary Puti very well! Just the sheer power of Sen’s talent is a good enough reason to watch the film. Sen bagged the 2017 National Film Award for Best Actor for this role.
Comparison and analysis
Another film of Kaushik Ganguly that I have seen is Chotoder Chobi. The visual style of the film is very similar to Nagarkirtan. Chotoder Chobi is a film about dwarfism and deals with that subject very maturely.
But other than that, honestly I am short of any recommendations. Transgenders rarely get satisfactory depiction on screen. Sacred Games had a transgender character, but the series never really took to the depths of this character. Paatal Lok was certainly far better in going deeper into this territory, but certainly the transexuality for not the main theme of the show.
Discussion with AP
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
The film’s ending is very shocking and very grim. The final scene almost ends like a cliff-hanger. It left me gasping for explanations and answers. I discussed the film with RS who had a particular take on the ending, and I myself had another take on the climax.
I discussed both the takes with AP. Here is the transcript of the discussion, which happened on chat. Note that the word Hijra is used for Kinnar, which sometimes may be derogatory. At the time of writing the chat I could not think of a better word so please excuse me if I have offended someone unknowingly.
I saw Nagarkirtan on Hoichoi tv.
It is a very good film and I wanted to ask you what you think about the ending of the film. RS and I had a disagreement about this film.
To me, it is one of the most striking point in that movie. Let me tell what I think of this subtle point. Madhu (Ritwik) was so much into love with Puti (Riddhi) and wanted their relationship to come into existence, knowing its inevitable unacceptance in the society including his family, and finally despite all efforts he failed to hold up Puti as she finally ended up herself in the police station, which Madhu sees as end of all of their hope for their relationship. He (Madhu) could not accept this treatment of society onto Puti (and onto them) — after all they wanted to live their lives with basic minimum respect. Being mentally tortured and losing all hopes and faith on this society, he find himself more comfortable in the transgender society he knew of. I guess he thought he could at least live the rest of his life with image of Puti by being a part of this transgender society and feeling her/their pains (and social injustice) more closely.
Let me know your point of view.
Your interpretation is closer to that of RS. He also thinks that the final scene was about him dressing up in an act of rebellion.
What I feel is that the movie was trying to show that Puti neither could fit among the dominant heterosexual narrative and neither could she fit in the Hijra community. I do agree that Madhu had lost all hopes in the society outside, but I don’t think he went to the Hijra society to find his identity there. I think he felt compelled to do so because he was kicked out of his family and his entire town must be talking about his love affair. Since he could not fit in his own town and family anymore, and since the outside world enforces a strict dichotomy (either you are normal or a Hijra), he had no choice but to become a Hijra himself.
I think he did blame the Hijra community for Puti’s death so doing so would be even more mentally tormenting for him. When he enters the final scene, his get up did not indicate someone accepting a new identity but more so of someone being forced to live a certain way.
That’s what I think. But since both you and Ronnie think along the “rebellion” interpretation, I am now doubting myself.
I am not saying he become “rebellion”. Yes, your interpretation has valid good points, I think.
I agree your interpretation about Puti, and that he (Madhu) did not join Hijra community to find his identity — in fact, in the whole movie I never thought that Madhu has such biological identity (not even implicitly).
Yes, I agree that he did blame the Hijra community for Puti’s death. However, at Police station he did not cared much when that officer questioned about why he is engaged with a Hijra. He knew that he must have to face this.
Yes, after Puti’s identity is disclosed, Madhu felt that he is now thrown out of his own family and the local society in Nabadwip — this is clear from the last scene when his family members caught up Puti’s identity, and he was finally leaving home knowing that he is not welcome there anymore (also explicitly mentioned by his elder brother) and his family members felt ashamed of him because of Puti’s identity. However, I think he already knew that if he could finally marry Puti, society will not accept if her identity gets disclosed. But still he could decide to take that challenge, partly because of hope they got from that transgender professor.
I think, he did not cared too much what people in his place at Kolkata will think, as he knew that it will not matter too much there and he could simply ignore them.
I think he could simply leave his home and in addition, his working place in Kolkata too, and could settle to some other place or town where no one could even know his past — this, I think, could be much easier for him, but he didn’t do that. That’s why I think, he wanted (not being forced/compelled) to live the rest of his life in that transgender society he knew of, where he could possibly live with Puti’s image.
Well that does make sense now that I think of it. He did not go to any arbitrary Hijra community but instead chose to go to the specific community in Kolkata.
This is a very interesting discussion. Is it okay with you if I copy this discussion on my blog?
Sure, you can copy.
After this discussion, I feel convinced that there are multiple interpretations of the ending. Which interpretation do you think is the most suitable? If you have any opinions, either let me know in the comments or contact me.
End of spoilers
In conclusion, I would like to again reiterate that Nagarkirtan is a very thought-provoking film about some pressing social injustices of the Indian society. The film is melancholic, but also very realistic and very sympathetic to the characters. It is a memorable film to watch and I do recommend you to get hold of it and watch it sometime.
After encountering my blog post, my friend AM told me something very relevant about the film that I think is worth mentioning.
There is a sect of people called the Sakhi-Bekhi that are active in eastern states of India including Bengal. Members of this sect are usually men, but they cross-dress themselves as women and identify themselves as girlfriends (or sakhis) of Krishna, often worship his incarnation as Chaitanya. In the film Puti is given an idol of Chaitanya which she carries with her.
Overall, there is a lot of Krishna-worship and related imageries in the film. The allusions are probably towards the LGBT issues in Hinduism, in particular the Krishna-Mohini transformation.