On Lifting the Quilts: Ethics, Autonomy, and South Asian Queer Films

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 14 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Mashrur HOSSAIN, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh
This paper gives a critical ethical reading of select South Asian queer-oriented films with a view to underscoring issues of autonomy, choice, and obligation. Incorporating South Asian principles of ethics and North American and Continental ‘ethical criticism,’ the paper concentrates on the ethical concepts of alterity and responsibility. It views ‘queer’ as a political positioning, a site through which constructions and deconstruction of sex/gender occur. Queer is, then, both being and doing, a phenomenon which destabilizes hetero-patriarchal normativity. In this narrow sense, queer films are those that have signs to problematize and interrogate heteronormative hierarchical structures and offer ways out of suffocating conformity. Now, South Asia’s interpretation of ‘queer’ is much different from that in the West. Queer here is more invisibilized and unacknowledged than stigmatized. Understandably, representation of and response to queer experiences involve a complex negotiation between dominant ethical considerations and radical anti-oppression affirmations.  In its study of South Asian queer films, the paper concentrates on the three: Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996), an Indian-Canadian production; Humayun Ahmed’s Ghetuputro Komola, or Pleasure Boy Komola (2012) from Bangladesh, and Visakesa Chandrasekaram’s Frangipani (2013) from Sri Lanka. The paper is divided into five sections: (i) ‘composition,’ analyzing what Geophrey Harpham dubbed “ethnicity,” e.g. moments of queer choice in the narratives; (ii) ‘production,’ evaluating questions of artistic autonomy and ethical obligations; (iii) ‘distribution,’ critiquing the didacticism of censorship and proscription; (iv) ‘consumption,’ evaluating audience response, ranging from fiery protest and criminalizing actors to informed recognition and celebration of differences; and (v) ‘reflection,’ arguing for a reflexive interpretational methodology which endorses writer-reader interactions. The paper contends that reflexive ethical approach has the potential to lift the quilts (alluding to Ismat Chughtai’s controversial story, “The Quilt”), to promote and sustain an ethically-informed scenario that accommodates sex/gender alterities and alternatives.