Pakistan · Color · 130'
Gulaab is a love story centered around Mir, Sassi, and Heera - a man, a woman, and a trans woman - as they battle through desire, love and sexual repression in the heat of a Lahore summer. Mir is a 25 year old unemployed married man with severe fits of anger and a suicidal history. Sassi is his naïve, ambitious, and considerate young wife who slowly develops a love for him through the process of her domestication as a housewife in their religiously conservative joint family household.
Heera is B-grade soft porn, stage dancer – a firecracker starlet whose transgender identity is a secret for the world. Heera hires Mir to be her new bodyguard and he enters her brazen new world where his repressed ideals and anger finally find an outlet. His initial disdain and judgement of Heera soon turn into fascination, and an intimacy that allows him to be himself in this world of sexually liberated outcasts. Heera finds his honesty and his anger disarming but knows that revealing her identity to him would lead to no good. Meanwhile, Sassi sees her husband slipping away and begins to blame her own physical appearance for it. This naivety leads her to surgically get the big mole on her face removed to make Mir fall in love with her.
This impossible love tragedy forms the crux of Gulaab, which explores how each of its three central characters struggle to conform to the normative ideas of gender and who one is allowed to fall in love with in this world.
If you’re a feminine kid in Pakistan, calling you a ‘khusra’ – a degrading term for trans people - is the go-to insult to shame you into normative masculine behavior. As a teenager, I felt the weight of those words on my burgeoning shoulders several times as they shamed me into inhibiting my instinctual body language, pitching my voice deeper than it really was, and masking my gay identity.
Later in life, as I became more comfortable with my sexuality, I reflected back at how the connotation of those terms was so dehumanizing for the trans community or anyone not conforming to the social ideals of genders. I learnt that the only way to stay functional within my family was to put on a mask of a heteronormative identity, and live my youth as a gay man in private or closed circles. This idea of a double identity and the masks that help you slide in and out of those appearances stuck with me. Even later in life, I met Naghma Gogi, a trans stage dancer and her real life became an inspiration for this film. I decided to explore the aforementioned feelings through this story. My interviews with Naghma have helped the film a great deal in adding a layer of authenticity to the world and the emotional life of a trans woman who has to hide her true self in order to attain success as a desirable female dancer.
In a nutshell, Gulaab is in equal parts a heartbreaking love story, a critique of violent toxic masculinity, and a celebration of the bold resistance of Heera, Sassi and Mir.
Production Company Profile
Sabiha Sumar and S. Sathananthan set up Vidhi Films in Karachi in 1992. It is the only independent film company in Pakistan with extensive collaborations with ZDF/Arte, Channel Four and BBC. The company has produced all of Sabiha Sumar’s films and HBO’s Oscar and Emmy winning documentary Saving Face. Currently Vidhi is producing Saim Sadiq’s debut feature film Gulaab and preparing Sabiha Sumar’s new film Dawaat Naama (The Invite).
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