Hridoye Basat - True Story of an Inspirational Woman
Sudeb Suvana's courageous journey to womanhood
The toughest challenge for an individual during their growing up years, is to accept that though their body is male, inside, they are female, and vice versa. Then, the tussle between accepting this, and maintaining secrecy about the radical truth begins, and perhaps, never ends.
The film A Home for My Heart made in Bengali as Hridoye Basat, directed by Sankhajit Biswas is currently making the rounds of film festivals across the Indian map.
Sudeb Suvana is not a 'hijra' or a hermaphrodite but a transgender, she was born a male but underwent a series of surgeries to transform her body into that of a female. She is tall and very attractive, and if she does not identify herself as a transgender, no one will suspect that was once male. A Home for my Heart is the story of Sudeb Suvana's courageous journey from being an 'outcast' even within her own family, to finding her feet in a world that is yet to accept people like her the mainstream.
Sankhajit Biswas who directed and wrote this documentary is a postgraduate in editing from Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute, Kolkata. He has participated in Berlin Talent Campus 2010 and films edited by him are screened in major festivals including Berlin, Toronto, BFI London, IDFA, Busan, Hong Kong, DokLeipzig, Yamagata, Museum of Modern Arts (MOMA), IFFI Goa and won several awards globally.
He turned to direction with Dui Dhuranir Golpo (In-between Days, 2012), a documentary on the transgender community of Kolkata. It was screened at CPH:DOX, Yamagata, Docpoint Helsinki, Vancouver Queer Film Festival and won the Best Documentary Award in Kolkata International Film Festival 2014. His second documentary The Wind in the Maruwa Field was selected for Indian Panorama and screened at IFFI Goa 2016.
Hridoye Bosot - A Home for My Heart, his first feature-length documentary has premiered at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2022. It has been mentored and pitched at Dhaka Doc Lab 2017, Docedge Kolkata 2019 and Goodpitch India 2020.
"While making my first film (Dui Dhuranir Golpo' / In-between Days) ten years ago,) with the transgender community in Kolkata, my aim was to explore the idea of 'womanhood' through their eyes. While making A Home for My Heart with Suvana Sudeb, who has formally become a 'woman' through SRS, I was curious to know how people accept her," said Biswas.
The sex reassignment surgery (SRS) from male to female involves reshaping the male genitals to look, and as far as possible, function as genitalia. Prior to any such surgery, trans-women usually undergo hormone replacement therapy and facial hair removal. Other surgeries undergone by trans-women may include facial feminisation surgery.
The SRS procedures usually begin with breast implant and end with vaginal reassignment. Lili Elbe was the first known recipient of male-to-female sex reassignment surgery in Germany in 1930. She underwent five surgeries, but died three months after her fifth operation. The first male-to-female surgeries in the United States took place in 1966 at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. The first physician who performed sex reassignment surgeries in the United States was the late Dr. Elmer Belt.
Sudeb Suvana is a sensitive, straightforward and determined person. After graduating, she started working with NGOs on LGBT+ advocacy and shifted to Kolkata. Almost a decade ago, she met the love of her life, Ismail, a fruit trader. Their love grew stronger over time, but with time, the affair was fraught with dissensions and they separated.
Her parents found it difficult to accept the decision of their older 'son' to change his sex but finally, they came to terms with it. In 2017, Sudeb went to Mumbai for Gender Affirmative Surgery, or Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in order to resolve the conflict of her body and mind.
Around the same time, Ismail left her and this broke her for some time but she came back to form. Her return post-surgery was problematic because of her brother Raju who refused to marry because he was 'mentally disturbed' by his sister's trans identity. This made her leave her parental home and make life elsewhere.
The aesthetic, sensational, and functional results of any process involved in the many surgeries within SRS vary greatly. Surgeons vary considerably in their techniques and skills; patients' skins vary in elasticity and healing ability, and there can be complications due to infections, blood loss, or nerve damage.
However, in the best cases, when recovery from surgery is complete, it is difficult for anyone to detect that someone has undergone SRS.
Sudeb Suvana plays herself in the film, and dominates almost every frame of the film with the confidence of a veteran and this underscores the reality of her situation. Her relationship with the second man in her life, Alex, a Norwegian photographer she has a live-in relationship with, is fraught with another heart-break.
Suvana is aware that this relationship will cease when Alex goes back home, but she makes the best of the time she spends with him. She also works with an NGO but one can see that financial well-being is not one of the strong points in her life, or even with her parents. Suvana's aging mother is struggling to make both ends meet. Suvana visits her mother from time to time and pitches in to help as much as she can, especially in the reconstruction of their small ancestral home.
"I have tried to explore the psychological and social vulnerability experienced by transgender individuals undergoing Gender Affirmative Surgery or more commonly used term, Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS). As SRS becomes legal and the cost of the surgery is reduced significantly, we see a spurt of such cases in recent years, without having any clear understanding of the gravity of its consequences on one's body and mind," said Biswas.
The camera wanders across streets and lanes of the suburban village-like place where Suvana grew up. It then explores the by lanes of Kolkata where she lives in a small flat with minimum furniture, her bed occupying a lot of space in what appears to be the only livable room. Her looking into the mirror, applying lipstick and beautifying herself is an assertion of the identity she is comfortable with.
Fleshing out of Suvana's brother, Raju, her first lover Ismail and then Alex a bit more, may have helped shed light on the degrees of acceptance that 'mainstream' people have for transgender people. Suvana is present at the film's screenings wherever she can, and is articulate enough to face questions from an inquisitive audience. She does not hide behind anything to make herself 'acceptable to the mainstream', hoping that this also, will come, with time.