With jet black curls framing her broad square face,Maya Jafer speaks in perfect English,shaking her hair off her face every now and then. The camera focuses on her prominent bindi,and the salwar-kameez combined with her fluid hand-movements,exude femininity.
Maya who is an actor,Bollywood dancer,comedian and activist possesses two doctorates,one in natural medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle,and the other one in homeopathy from India. But there is a slight twist in Mayas story. Maya was formerly known as Mohammed Ghulam Jafer Hussein.
Rites of Passage,a 21-minute documentary that came out in 2011 and which has now been converted into a full-length feature film (65 minutes) called Mohammed to Maya,traces the journey of Maya and deals with the issues of trans-sexualism and religion through her perspective. It depicts one year in the life of Maya,an Indian Muslim,as she goes through gender transformation.
I started studying filmmaking around the time I met Maya. It was really her story that inspired me to pick up a camera and begin shooting, says Jeff Roy,the director of the film,who is a PhD student of ethnomusicology at University of California,Los Angeles.
I had just returned to LA after a two-month India visit,and I was interested in knowing people from the South Asian LGBT community there. I approached Maya with the intention of writing an academic article about her dance and acting background,but one thing led to another. After she told me that she was going to go through a sex reassignment surgery,I decided that this project had to be something bigger, he says,adding that he never had any trouble connecting with Maya.
Roy himself comes from a different background. His mother is a lesbian and he is a gay himself. In that sense,I understand at least part of the struggle that Maya has gone through. We all struggle with social stigma as well. For me,Mayas story reveals the hardships that all minorities (sexual,ethnic,economic or religious) face while fighting to be their true selves within an unforgiving environment,and the tactics she uses in order to overcome them, he explains.
So is Roy worried about the reception of his film in India,as it deals with subjects such as religion and sex? I dont think so. I believe the Indian audiences will love this film because of the strength of its message and the truth behind it. The film is nothing more than an honest portrayal of what happened, he says confidently. The film premieres today as part of Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.