Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Shabnam Mousi

Shabnam Mousi defines an entirely new genre of film: the Bollywood Kung Fu Tranny Superhero Soap Opera Political Docudrama. The sound effects are cheesy, some of the action sequences are corny, but the story is told very well. It's based on the true story of Shabnam Bano, known as Shabnam Mousi (Aunty Shabnam) by the locals, who became the first hijra ever elected to Parliament in India.

The hijra (हीजड़ा) comprise a third gender; they mostly eke out a marginal existence by begging, by giving blessings at births, weddings, and other major family events, or by prostitution. The hijra were respected and revered in centuries past, but in modern India they are barely above the untouchables. Shabnam Bano was banned from her hijra clan, but makes friends in the new village in which she finds herself, eventually gaining such popularity that she is convinced to run for political office. One key to her success is that, with no acknowledged family, she is immune from many of the forms of corruption that are rife in Indian politics. It doesn't hurt that she speaks 14 languages and can more than hold her own in a fistfight.

I'm not usually a great fan of either Bollywood musicals or cheesy martial-arts movies, but Shabnam Mousi is a must-see.

Shabnam Mousi, dir. Yogesh Bhardwaj, 2005 India, 150 min., in Hindi with English subtitles.

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