Friday, November 01, 2013

Star quest - 2nd encounter

Clickhappy! Star Quest, Nov '13
By Pawan Dhall

In the last issue of Varta, we started the Star Quest column, a series of photo-stories of individuals who may not be public figures like politicians, artistes, social activists or media persons, but have in their own way contributed to social equality and empowerment around gender, sexuality and related issues.

Their contribution may be in an intimate arena – among friends and neighbours, their local community, a village or slum school, their own work place and so on. It may not have attracted any media attention, yet the importance of their efforts cannot be underscored enough. Varta is happy to bring to light such hidden ‘stars’ and focus on endeavours that generate hope for a better present and future.

Varta welcomes its readers to contribute to Star Quest by sending information about individuals living anywhere in India who can be portrayed in the column. Please send a brief description of the individual and their work in about 100 words to, and also include 3 to 5 high quality photographs of the individual depicting their day-to-day life.

Please note that no individual will be portrayed in this column through text or photographs till the Varta team has interacted with them and obtained their informed consent. Therefore it is vital that readers also obtain the consent of the individuals concerned before sending information about them to Varta.

Photograph provided by
Debgopal Mondal
Star of the month: Debgopal Mondal, 25, from Uchpur village near Sainthia in Birbhum district of West Bengal, lives in Kolkata in a paying guest accommodation and is a budding filmmaker. A graduate in Bengali, Debgopal recollects that he wanted to become a filmmaker right since he was in the eighth standard in school. After college, since admission into any of the renowned filmmaking institutes was beyond his means, Debgopal plucked up courage to do the rounds of Tollywood studios in Kolkata. In 2007, he met filmmaker Dipankar Bhattacharya, who taught him the theory and other basics of filmmaking. Debgopal started as an observer and since then has assisted Dipankar Bhattacharya in the direction of several films of different genres.

In a phone interview, Dipankar Bhattcharya says, “Debgopal is a sincere and talented young fellow and works hard. He is a good learner, and I am happy to say that at times even I benefit from some very useful suggestions given by him.”

Debgopal’s current passion is making a film on the Bhadu festival, which is mostly celebrated in the Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum and Purulia districts of West Bengal. According to folklore, the festival has its origins in the story of Bhadravati, a princess who lived sometime in 19th century Bengal. She gets separated from her lover because of the evil designs of a jealous king. Her search for her lover proves fruitless and she commits suicide.

Photo credit:

Bhadravati or Bhadu Devi’s devotees make an image of her and sing and dance before it throughout the month of Bhadra in the Bengali calendar (which translates to mid August to mid September). On the last day, they gather on a river bank and immerse the image in the water. Songs, mainly on fulfillment of wishes for a happy marriage or birth of children, form the main attraction of the festival in which both professional groups and amateurs take part. Celebrations include fairs and cultural programmes.

According to Debgopal, the festival is largely observed by women, including unmarried ones (Bhadravati too was unmarried), and has also been adopted by male-to-female transgender people or trans women in Birbhum. Many of them dress and act as Bhadu Devi. His film also is focussed on three trans women from different generations who perform the goddess’ role and explores the question – will their desire to become women ever be fulfilled?

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Widows are not meant to be associated with Bhadu festival. But the activist in Debgopal wants to show this barrier broken in the film, and he plans to include a widow as a character in the film. Debgopal’s non-conformism extends also to his personal self. He says he too is a woman inside, but he is happy with his physical self and so doesn’t stick to any particular label like transgender. Yet he has the utmost respect for people who adopt such an identity.

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Debgopal is out about his gender orientation at work, including at NGO Prantakatha where he is part of their filmmaking campaign against gender-based violence. He is not sure what will happen if he comes out to his family, though he expects them to be considerate. Quite ironically filmmaker-actor Rituparno Ghosh’s demise seems to have made an impact on his folks as well – they are quite sad at his untimely departure.

The more immediate challenge for Debgopal is to find adequate finance for his film on Bhadu festival. He doesn’t want to compromise on quality and plans to cast actors from the Bengali film and television industry. If the film works out as he aspires, then Debgopal plans to take up more ambitious projects in future, including a feature film on pheriwallahs (vendors with handcarts who sell an assortment of utility items). Like the festival of Bhadu is losing out to modern-day forms of entertainment, the community of pheriwallahs is also fading in the onslaught of contemporary trade and marketing.

The underdog clearly is Debgopal’s focus. “People should treat all human beings equally,” he asserts as we wind up our conversation.

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

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