‘Venus’ will draw a bridge between communities, says director Eisha Marjara

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Eisha Marjara’s award-wining film is being screened in Toronto and Vancouver from May 18. The acclaimed writer and director talked to Sabrina Almeida about her first fiction feature which is also being developed as a television series.

‘Venus’ is not just a film about gender. It is also about the desire for integration”, says writer-director Eisha Marjara. “I am not a transgender person, but as an Indo-Canadian woman who has struggled with gender identity issues and body dysphoria, I can empathize with the transgender experience.” Gender has motivated her work right from her award-winning docudrama ‘Desperately Seeking Helen’ to her short film ‘House for Sale’, and now more deeply with ‘Venus’. Here are excerpts of the interview.

What inspired the subject of ‘Venus’?
I made a short film ‘House for Sale’ with a lead transgender character but their gender identity was not the focus. I always wanted to adapt that into a feature film. As I started writing ‘Venus’, it took on a life of its own. The character became a completely different person, the subject mushroomed from there and the other peripheral characters developed.

How did you select the cast?
Elite Casting in Montreal helped us. Casting was challenging and finding Debargo Sanyal, our lead, took a year and a half. When Debargo sent us the audition tape, I knew right away. His performance was so compelling and on point.

The South Asian community’s discomfort with the LGBTQ community stands out. Is there a message you wanted to convey?
Yes, there is a certain sense of discomfort that the South Asian community may have towards people who are trans. The irony is that immigrants, especially South Asians, should understand that acceptance is important because they struggle to belong in the mainstream culture. We should empathize with the experience of the LGBTQ and minorities within the minorities.
The film is about acceptance, but even in that regard you can’t expect everyone to accept you. Even your parents or kids may not accept you if you don’t live in a certain way. Or, be the person they want you to be. Yet, it is important to respect differences.
I thought humour is a very good way to disintegrate the walls, judgement and the queasiness. The film just makes everything so light, normal and relatable that most people don’t even recognize that aspect. Everyone is responding at a very basic emotional level. After all everyone wants to belong that is just a part of human nature.

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Is this because the young boy is also looking for acceptance as much as the main character?
Ralph is looking to belong in his own family. The little boy just wants somebody who can see who he is and have a relationship with. He wants to bond with his biological father who turns out to be trans because he doesn’t feel the bonding in his own family with his mother and stepfather. He seeks out Sid who ends up being very similar to him in that they are both on the outside. The other similarities that I liked to explore in this film is that this boy is turning into a man as his father is turning into a woman, so it’s like a coming of age in different ways.

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What are some of the audience reactions that you have received?
Some viewers found it funny but also heart-warming. Others who have seen a lot of films on LGBTQ subject are happy that this one doesn’t just focus on social issues but is a really good story and entertaining. Films must be entertaining. Who wants to pay money to be educated or lectured to. This is a story like any other and it is a fun ride. People have fun watching it and learn something along the way.
It also has a great sound track. I feel that is a part of Punjabi and Indian culture. I believe the film is very celebratory and uplifting and will draw a bridge between communities. Comedy really opens doors between different communities and beliefs. That’s what I wanted to impart in this film.

What’s next?
I am excited to share that we are developing ‘Venus’ into a TV series. We think that it would do well because people feel like they already know the characters and would want to know what happens to Sid, Ralph and the parents after the film. We are just starting the process.
I’m also working with Joe Balass on another feature film called ‘Calorie’. It’s about a single Indo-Canadian mom who has two very hard-to-handle teen girls. The summer holidays are coming up and the mom gets a call from her aunt in Amritsar asking her to come. She decides to send her daughters who have never been to India. At the same time, she is grappling with her own troubled relationship with her mother when she was a teenager. Her mother was killed the Air-India bombing of Flight 182 and she is having a breakdown about her past with the loss of her mother. It is a very Canadian story that has a South Asian subject as well. It is not very heavy and dramatic, there are some lighter moments to the film too.
After that comes ‘Akram the Surrealist’ (Akram, le surréaliste). It is a French-language fiction feature that my producer wanted to develop and I’m helping him write the script. It’s a historical drama about an Iraqi Jew who emigrates to Paris in a post-war era.

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Why should people come and watch ‘Venus’?
I hope people will come out to watch the film because it is good and will dispel a lot of misconceptions. It humanizes everyone and it’s entertaining. It played in New York City, at the NY Indian Film Festival on May 8 and will also be the closing gala film at the London Indian Film Festival in June.

‘Venus’ has won numerous accolades including the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) EDA Award for Best Female Directed Feature (Whistler Film Festival 2017); Audience Award for Best Feature (Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival 2018); Best Narrative Feature (Cinequest 2018); Best Actor – Jamie Mayers (Transgender Film Festival, Kiel, Germany 2018); and Best Trans Performance – Debargo Sanyal (Transgender Film Festival, Kiel, Germany 2018).

For details of showtimes in Toronto (Cineplex Yonge-Dundas Theatre) and Vancouver (Vancity Theatre) as well as tickets visit www.facebook.com/Venusfeaturefilm/. – CINEWS

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