It is about a father who wants to ‘become’ a mother, after his infant child is left mother-less
On the face of it, the short film Dammy, directed by Rukshana Tabassum, pivots on gender identity. It is about a person who wants to change their assigned gender: a father wanting to become a mother. The film, which premiered at the Indian Film Festival, Stuttgart on July 22, raises some difficult questions around gender and identity.
Its title is derived from combining both daddy and mummy. “We wanted to make a film around a strong desire; a desire to be another person/gender. What if it is complemented by another? Suman [Vikram Kochhar] has lost his wife, he has an infant and so he wants to ‘become’ the mother. He is attracted to the very idea in the literal sense of motherhood,” says the writer Jinoy Jose P. He is glad that the producer Ajayya Kumar let them [the team] tell this story.
“The ‘desire’ is “driven out of love. It is not to ‘fit’ into any gender, Suman is practical. He feels that by ‘becoming’ a woman he would be able to nurse his baby. He doesn’t care how people would react or what they would think of him — that blew my mind! Suman sees his body as a functional device that nurtures, he does not see it in a sexual way. It shows that motherhood is beyond gender, beyond the bodies we have,” says Rukshana. When he penned the script, Jinoy drew inspiration from the emotions he felt as a parent.
Rukshana is an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Her film Apples and Oranges won the National Award for the Best Educational Film (2019) and The Cake Story (2018) won a Special Mention in the short fiction, non-feature category. She and Jinoy have collaborated on a short film Burning, which Jinoy wrote and Rukshana acted in. It was selected for the International Film Festival of India (2018). Though Dammy was shot before the pandemic, post-production happened during it. It is on the film festival circuit, the Stuttgart festival was the first.
Behind the scenes
While on the location hunt, Rukshana experienced, first-hand, the blurring of gender roles. “It was a farmer’s family of three — father, mother and daughter. They work the fields except during the rainy months when they work in a factory. The wife and the daughter go to the factory, while the father takes over duties at home. It was beautiful, the father nurtures the land and the family. Gender equality right there. We, in cities, think that we are progressive but villages are less judgemental and more accepting,” she says.
The film is set in the dusty interiors of Madhya Pradesh, in Beltola. The language spoken there and in the film is Bundeli; it is spoken by the Bhils. “Cinema gives voice to people and encourages the community to do more. I am keen to do films in languages that are not used [in cinema]. I was fascinated by it,” says Rukshana about using the language in the film. She had help from actor Brahma Mishra, who hails from Madhya Pradesh and has acted in the film.
The camera work, by Vandita Jain, is non-intrusive, melding with the action giving the film a certain rawness. It aids in the progression of the narrative. Rukshana is all praise for Vandita, “She was sensitive about how a lot of things were shown — it could cross the line, towards titillation. It is a very thin line. The ‘gaze’ matters in such a story.”