Call Me Salma
Written by Gunter Seifert
Sébastien Rist and Aude Leroux-Lévesque, two Canadian film makers that travelled to Bangladesh to explore Hijra culture through the eyes of Salma. Salma is a 16 year old Hijra that left her family and her village to the city of Dhaka where she begs for money to survive. This was the first film of the festival that I viewed and couldn't be happier at my first experience; it was a terrific opportunity to open my eyes to queer culture around the world. The film follows her through the slums of the city as she outright asks for money and food; she is neither graceful nor pleasant about it. "Give" she says.
If you are aware of the hijra culture, which I was not before this film, you know that the hijra are basically individuals that were born with feminine qualities and are not considered men or women by their families. They would be kicked out of their family homes and forced to survive on their own. One unique quality of the hijra is the "nanny," another older and wiser hijra that takes care of her girls; they leave their previous families and adopt a new one. I watched the film and was deeply intrigued by the relationship between Pinky (nanny) and Salma, and how their relationship is very similar to that of mother and daughter. I watched as Pinky would brush Salma's hair and they would make jokes and laugh, Pinky would smack her playfully over a vulgar joke.
There were many humorous points during the film as we followed her through the market place, she would haggle for a chicken and take more than is given to her. Some people shoo her away while others laugh and joke along with her. You cannot help but laugh as you watch her at work, helping to support her new found family. The laughter does have a way of fading when a group of men begin to attack Salma, she does hold her own but it is apparent afterwards that she is still only 16 years old.
I have to appreciate the work that the directors put into the film; they had a clear vision and brought it to life with the help of Salma, a courageous and lively individual that would not have made this film possible. It's quite clear that queer culture throughout the world contrasts our own and is never as easy as gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered. There are many in-betweens and not everyone can fit perfectly into the boxes made for them. We are all simply people trying to make a place for ourselves in the world. I will always remember Salma and will always remember the hijra.