The City In Love is a calendar for 2015 which was conceptualised and compiled by Archan Mukherjee. This calender was released at DIALOGUES: CALCUTTA INTERNATIONAL LGBT FILM AND VIDEO FESTIVAL at Goethe Institute / Max Mueller Bhavan on this November.
Where did the idea of this Calendar “City in Love” originate from?
Archan: The idea for this calendar actually originated from my previous work- “Silence Saga”.
When “Silence Saga” came out in various publications, they headlined it as “Queer Sexuality”, which I did not agree with. They made the word “Queer” synonymous with LGBT which is a very parochial definition of the term. It’s similar to the misnomer which is propagated in this country that Article 377 is about Alternate Sexuality, which is false. It affects everybody including the Heterosexual community. I, in this Calendar have tried to establish the broader meaning of the term “Queer”, which is Non- normative, it is not synonymous to sexual identity. Along with that I have also tried to break the gender stereotype which is prevalent in our society. Our society has stereotyped Man & Woman. Their dressing style, taste, behavior as well as certain jobs have been categorized as Manly or Womanly. So, only a woman is supposed to do household work where as a man’s duty to the household is to earn money. Scooty is supposed to be ridden by a girl and men should ride bikes. Even colors like “Pink” & “Blue” are stereotyped as Girly and Boyish. Logic & requirement should define human behavior & not societal pressures or cultural compulsions. For example traditionally men wore pants with partings because they had to ride horses, now if a woman is to ride a horse she also has to wear pants with partings. When requirement is turned into obligation it becomes silly.
In comparison to your last work was this easier or more difficult to execute?
Archan: This was different. “Silence Saga” was based on colonial Kolkata. Hence the research work required for that was more time consuming but making it visually appealing was easier whereas this though set in contemporary Kolkata are more nuanced pictures and shooting it was a lot more difficult.
As you said, “Queer” as a genre is very vast so why did you choose Gender Queerness?
Archan: I am an artist at the end of the day & my medium is the visual medium. Queerness is very vast as a subject and also very difficult to portray visually. Hence I selected a specific area of “Queer” which can be visually better expressed, hence Gender Queerness. But I have not limited it to Sexual Queerness. It goes beyond ones sexual identity in “City of Love”.
Worldwide there are some work which are done on Sexual Queerness, what’s your take on them?
Archan: The work done on Sexual Queerness internationally pertains more to Hypersexuality, which I do not have an issue with. Most of them are aesthetically beautiful & visually pleasing. But a major portion of it is Gay erotica, not even lesbian erotica, which caters to populism. I won’t take a moral high ground and say that I have not been populist at all, I have but my focus was mainly on Alternate Lifestyle, which has always been a part of our society, hence I came up with this. It’s as realistic as possible dealing with real people.
Review of the Calendar:
“City in Love” is a metaphor. Though it is based in contemporary Kolkata it talks about a Utopian Kolkata where none of the subjects are Queer, in fact in this Kolkata Queer is non-existent. He has moved away from the colonial charm of his previous work which was perceived to be more elitist to something which is more mass appealing. He obviously bears an eminent risk of losing his audience. The common thread that connects these 12 pictures in the calendar is Kolkata. Probably Archan Mukherjee’s take on Kolkata is more objective as he is an outsider to the city, being born in Bihar and raised in different parts of the country. But still traditional features & the quintessential Kolkata’s landmarks have been captured in this Calendar for example- Victoria Memorial, PrincepGhat, Maidan, Howrah Bridge as well as the image that defines Modern Kolkata- Salt Lake Sector V, the tram, which is unique to this city and the Fish something about which Bengalis are hysterical about.
The Calendar opens with a majestic visual two girls sharing an intimate moment in front of a sunbathed Victoria Memorial, the TajMahal of Kolkata. Now, seeing this visual it is easy to categorize them as two Lesbian girls in their moment of love but if their attire is observed then it’s visually evident that they are both Fame, dressed in feminine attire contrary to the concept of Butch and femme.
The month of February gives us a picture of a Heterosexual couple, the girl riding a scooty while the guy is sitting behind her. There are a few bystanders who are not even bothering to give a glance. This picture has many layers. Other than the apparent fact that the guy is sitting behind the girl on a scooty without feeling that his masculinity is being challenged, there are other things that one notices. The guy is dressed like a regular guy- T-shirt, jeans and sneakers whereas the girl is dressed in a feminine attire hence negating the notion that the guy might be effeminate or the girl might be manly. They both are sharing a chuckle hence consciousness or awkwardness both are not a possibility. If this visual is to play itself out in a busy street in Kolkata then heads will surely turn and people while look in shock and in all possibility won’t shy away from making a remark or two. But here in Archan’s Kolkata- bystanders are indifferent as they are Gender Neutral in the truest sense of the term & this visual is as natural as a guy riding a bike with a girl sitting behind.
The third visual that comes up in the month of March is that of two men in a North Kolkata house, dressed in traditional attire, connoisseurs of Bengali Literature evident from all the Bengali novels littered around, drinking tea- one with a broken, plastered foot sitting on a chair while the other one is sitting on the floor drawing a heart on his plaster with red ink. Though visually very simply though with immaculate detailing, the picture tries to break the social stereotype that so called “modern & western” men can only be Gay, that this is a 21st century phenomenon seen amongst young boys.
April shows us a girl playing football, a game which is perceived to be a man’s sport. This picture and before the February picture broadens the terminology “Queer” and establishes Gender Queerness. The girl here is playing football with guys like it is the only natural thing to do. Normally at Maidan the only women who can be seen playing football are professional footballers but this picture depicts that love for a sport is not determined by Gender neither should it be a hindrance. This happens while 2nd Hoogly Bridge looks on at the backdrop.
As we flip over the calendar to May, we find one the more complex and hard hitting pictures of the calendar. It’s the picture of a Transgender woman dressed in a saree sitting on a rickshaw being shaved by her male partner. According to Archan, “Some transgender women do not acknowledge their male features.” Here in this picture it breaks the taboo, portraying the fact that those male features are acceptable to both the Transgender woman as well her partner and they are comfortable enough to do it in public. In Archan’s words this picture “Accepts the male features of a transgender woman yet celebrates their womanhood”.
The sixth picture in the calendar pictured at Princep Ghat is the most complicated picture of the calendar as it deals with Gender Queerness as well as Sexual Queerness together in one picture. The picture is of three guys and one girl. The guy and the girl in the middle get all the attention as the guy is dressed in a more effeminate attire while the girl is dressed in boyish clothes. This picture is ambiguous in its tone as it is not clear if they are Transgender man & woman or not. But it does attack the notion that “Clothes have Gender”. It might be that two heterosexual people are dressed unconventionally because they wish to or it might depict a heterosexual relationship in a transgender community. One thing is for sure that June will leave you puzzled.
July picture revolves around the Bengali obsession of Fish. Normally, while visiting the in-laws, the groom is supposed to carry one whole fish. This is peculiar to the Bengali culture. This picture also talks about Gender Queerness where the so called male role is assumed by the bride. It’s her who flaunts the fish as she walks through a puddly road.
“City of Kolkata” is a utopian Kolkata, nothing depicts it more aptly than the August picture of two men getting married. While talking about populism, this was the picture Archan was referring to. They are wearing a very traditional outfit, as a woman assuming the role of the guardian showers them with her blessing in the form of her approving gaze. The presence of the woman depicts the fact that they didn’t feel the need to elope and also shows social acceptability of the dogmatic religious society evident in the presence of the priest.
The picture of September talks about recognition of the third gender and the possibility of them being mainstream. The Supreme Court has not only recognized them but also provided jobs for them by introducing the “quota” system in some government jobs. But the irony is that according to this very Supreme Court the LGBTIQ community are criminals, hence the paradox is that this is an acknowledgement of a group of criminals, the two verdicts not being coherent with each other. In this picture of course the envelope has been pushed further to make a so called “criminal”, the protector of the law. Ma Durga being the ultimate protector in the background, looking on, ominously. This picture also shows how love knows no gender. The child depicted in this picture is not bothered with what the gender of this person is. All he knows is he is loved by this individual & that’s all he cares about.
The city of Kolkata will be incomplete if Salt Lake sector V, the IT hub of the city is not shown. In October what we find is a bunch of guys playing a game which is considered to be feminine. Dressed in perfect office going attire these 3 men are hopping boxes literally and metaphorically. This visual like a few before deals with Gender Queerness. Sports and games cannot be categorized as masculine or feminine. One plays it because one enjoys it.
It’s an early winter noon in Kolkata, two women dressed in feminine attire are enjoying an intimate moment with their child. Again, both of them being dressed in so called masculine attire are breaking the stereotype of Butch & Fame.
The calendar ends with a picture portraying Gender Queerness. It’s a picture of a man knitting a sweater as his female companion rests her head on his shoulder. What makes this picture special is the presence of another man in the tram who is indifferent to what in our society will be termed as effeminate behavior. The man knitting the sweater is also confident enough with his gender identity hence is able to do it in the open in a public transport. Work cannot be defined by gender as masculine or feminine is the major take away of this visual.
At the end we asked Archan if he feels obligated to continue this Calendar on Alternate Sexuality.
Archan: There is no obligation on me to carry on with this work. I am doing this because I want to. But if more people start working on it, then probably I won’t feel the need. But people are not doing enough work on this issue.
Do you feel getting stereotyped?
Archan: I like breaking stereotypes. For that, I need to get stereotyped first.
In this calendar in an effort to break stereotypes, did you not cater to them? Why did the girl have to ride a scooty and not a bike, the men in traditional Bengali wedding attire, Traditional North Kolkata setting, clothes worn by heterosexual subjects in the calendar & so on.
Archan: That was deliberate. When people talk, see or read about alternate sexuality, especially in India they feel as if this life style is alien to them. As if this is not normal & they look for excuses and objects that will let them believe that they are different from these people. They search for that Non-normative lifestyle features so that they can tell themselves that this can’t happen in my family as they are different, ultra-modern or western. Blaming these influences is ingrained in Indian culture as these provide them with an excuse to keep discriminating. I here have tried to beat stereotype with stereotypes, not providing anybody with any excuses.
“The next event where the calendar will be available will be announced soon. But anytime calendar can be available through the courier.” by Archan Mukherjee
About The Author:
Avik Ghosh is a B.Com (Hons) Graduate from Calcutta University. An aspiring filmmaker and an active member of Civilian Welfare Foundation (CWF), he is currently working on a documentary on Child Rights for CWF in association with CRY.