Shifting spaces, frozen frames: trajectories of queer politics in contemporary India
This paper is a comparative reading of two Malayalam films The Journey (Sancharram, 2004) and The Wandering Bird Does Not Cry (Deshadana Kili Karayarilla, 1986) as representative of differing trajectories of queer politics in the Kerala public sphere. It uses an analysis of the representative strategies of these two films, to interrogate the limits of a universal language of sexual identity politics. The paper places the two films in the different historical contexts in which they are produced, and deploys a film from an earlier time period to problematize some of the assumptions of contemporary queer politics. For this purpose it undertakes a close reading of the cinematic codes of both these films, especially the spatial arrangements in the films. I argue that the location of Sancharram in the LGBT discourse in India and abroad makes it so enmeshed in setting up an established meaning for the term 'queer' that the process of queering becomes one of stabilizing a chosen form of desire as the ideal one. In this process of setting up a stable trajectory for queer desire, it also freezes the spatial and social terrains of Kerala. The process of queering that Deshadana Kili Karayarilla undertakes is not one that attempts to set up a particular subject position as the queer subject position. It sets out to trouble the naturalized construction of the heterosexual couple and injects a sense of instability into the social sphere itself. The paper examines how some of the taken-for-granted assumptions of transnational queer politics, like the celebration of visible bodies, gets radically questioned when we turn to non-metropolitan sites of analysis. It aims to look at how cultural texts can embody different modes of sexual politics, as activists struggle to coin strategies to articulate the political possibilities of non-normative sexual practices in Kerala today.
Keywords: queer politics; public sphere; visibility; the couple; Kerala
Navaneetha Mokkilmaruthur is a PhD candidate in English and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan, USA. Her PhD project is titled ‘Disrupting the Figure of the “Kerala Woman”: Shifting Discourses of Sexuality in the Post-Liberalization Era’. She has an MA in English Literature from the University of Hyderabad in India, and works in the areas of Gender and Sexuality Studies, Literary Studies and Film Studies, with a focus on contemporary India. She has been teaching introductory courses in Women's Studies and Indian Feminism at the University of Michigan. She has completed a research project on women's hostels as urban spaces in India and done prior research work on sexuality debates in contemporary Kerala for her MPhil Dissertation.