The first transgender person ever to be elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly is in Goa. Tamara Adrián, on whose life ‘Tamara’ (2016) is based, was voted into office last year. Even so recently into her term, Adrián has mixed-feelings. “It is very peculiar,” she laughs, asking The Peacock to highlight ‘peculiar’. “We have nothing normal in Venezuela. We are facing one of the worst economic and political crises.”
Adrián is understandably dejected. Venezuela is living a horror story, in the midst of an unprecedented economic and social crisis that has resulted in extraordinary hardship. Despite the largest petroleum reserves in the world, and billions of dollars of annual income from oil exports, the South American country has suffered a precipitous decline in standard of living and human development. The average Venezuelan has lost between five and fifteen kilos in weight over the past year due to an extended food crisis.
‘Tamara’ is about transphobia. This meant facing down rigid Catholic morality alongside multiple financial and political problems. The film’s director, Elia Schneider says, “it is very sensitive because the cultural and religious environment in Venezuela makes it difficult for people to engage with the film. But I don’t want heroes and villains, I just want to discuss the issue.”
Along with and Schneider, ‘Tamara’ lead actors Luis Fernández and Prakriti Inti Maduro Martin (the lead actors) have joined producer Joseph Novoa at IFFI 2016. Fernández spoke at length about how ‘Tamara’ connected India with Venezuela. “In India and Venezuela we are struggling with human rights – rights of women, children, gays, and lesbians,” he said, “human rights are for all humans!” He added, “this is the most remarkable story. I feel privileged to be a part of the film. I feel very proud of it.”
In the movie, “forty percent is reality, and sixty percent is fiction,” says Adrián, “but the sixty percent is not fiction in the essential sense. It is also the story of many other trans persons. And I think besides some cultural differences, the problems [of trans persons] across the world are the same – of violence against them, no employment, a lack of proper identity. They have to fight for equal rights.”
‘Tamara’ deals with vexed issues of alternate sexualities and gender identities. Perhaps predictably, it earned a mixed reception at IFFI 2016. “It was interesting. I did not know Indians had a problem with nudity,” says Fernández, “but there was also a welcoming of the issues in the film.” Martin agreed, “the audience was very engaged with the story. Many were glad and had a lot of questions.”
Earlier, Schneider says, she was not fully aware of the stereotypes and problems that trans persons face. “I didn’t know about this. I started this film as an adventure. For me the transgender is like any other kind of minority. I wanted to know and see what the reality was.”
(A version of this article was first published in The Peacock, 27 November, 2016)