Directed by: Tathagata Ghosh
Written by: Tathagata Ghosh
Starring: Arghya Adhikary, Payel Rakshit
“Love isn’t between a man and a woman. But between love and love.” These are the lines we first see in Tathagata Ghosh’s Miss Man, a short film with a hallucinatory style and an empirical vision. If you want to catch the spirit of this short film, then make a note of this line, “You know, I’m often attracted to women as well. But, I’m not sure if it’s as a man or a woman!” These words are said by the protagonist of Miss Man. He is Manob (an excellent Arghya Adhikary), a man exploring his sexuality. He likes to do makeup and wear sarees. His story runs in parallel between two spaces: one is “real” in a way that it’s shown using a traditional approach, while the other consists of dreamlike montages, complete with evocative images.
With Miss Man, Ghosh keeps on asking, “Who am I?” Manob is searching for his identity, trying to fit in his comfort zone. But it’s not easy for him to build his sanctum when people in his vicinity are minacious, ignorant, and unwelcoming of his sexuality. Manob’s father casts a disgusting look at the sight of him dressed in a sari (he beats him up after catching him in his mother’s clothes). There was a boyfriend who couldn’t accept their relationship because of the narrow-minded views prevailing in their village. “This is not a city,” says the male lover with a hint of warning. Then there is a prostitute, Jhimli (a fantastic Payel Rakshit), with whom it initially seems things could go right (a shot shows the “female” Manob and Jhimli sitting together and locking eyes). He accepts her for who she is without making a fuss out of her profession. But after copulation, when he sits on the bed covered in a sari, she whispers in his ears that she “can’t live with a eunuch!”
Miss Man utilizes Jhimli to explore horizons outside the bandwidth of the “gay region.” You, for example, notice the embarrassment and helplessness of a lonely woman in public when she is going through her period. Not only that, you get the judgmental gaze of the shopkeeper who sells the sanitary pads to the customer. It’s Manob’s feminine instincts that draw him to Jhimli at the bus stop because he feels her discomfort, and his intuitions encourage him to help her. In another scene, he looks at a trans woman, not with filthy prejudice or lust, but with a lens of appreciation. Their eyes meet, and they smile to show an attitude of respect and tenderness for each other.
What makes Miss Man superb is that Ghosh is interested in representation and not fictional creation. His cinematic sight is not restricted to pretty pictures and cool-looking shots, but he imbues some meaning within these “pictures” and “shots.” When Manob (dressed up as a woman) walks in slow-motion, it exhibits his confidence that surfaces when he is allowed to live as per his desires. When Manob’s father hits him, he covers his son’s mouth. A shot has Manob’s body immersed in water, except for his nose and eyes. These two images depict the repression existing in backward societies that have not yet evolved mentally with the modern viewpoints. Miss Man is packed with many more such shots on which you can contemplate for a good amount of time. But you don’t need to crack them to enjoy Miss Man. This is a film, not a cipher. With his extraordinary skills and exceptional cinematic language, Ghosh arrives as a master filmmaker who deserves a larger audience. Miss Man is just one of his wins among a plethora of successful films this director would soon make in the future.