Shweta Ghosh is the director of AccSex, a pioneering film exploring disability and sexuality. She talks to Leher about her film at length.
#1 How did the idea of exploring disability and sexuality come to you given that it is quite a difficult subject?
It started as idea for my diploma film in college but for some reason other members of my group were not sure about it so I couldn’t make it then. It is my debut film and in fact the idea was always in my head because I have been exposed to these issues in my family itself. My father has a disability related to his arm. And so it was not a new issue for me in that sense. And my mother is non-disabled, I have grown up with most people patting my back and saying, ‘’oh it must be so tough”, “you are so brave”, ‘’beta we are proud of you’’ etc.… Fortunately, my parents raised me and my sibling in a sensitive and informed way. They both work in the social sector so we had a lot of open conversations, and just growing up with such great parents sensitised me to this subject much more than a child with say ‘normal’ parents. It was in fact my mother who suggested that I should explore issues around disability and then I thought of looking into how people with disabilities treat the subject of sexuality.
#2 How big a taboo is sex and sexuality among people with disabilities and how do normal people perceive it?
To begin with it was a revelation even for me. During the making of the film I realised that I was looking at sex in isolation when it clearly isn’t the case. Sex means different thing for different people. I realised that non-disabled people like you and me have many avenues, places to seek partners. Disabled people on the other hand have very few options to seek partners or even interact with people outside their immediate circle of friends and family. You go to malls, coffee shops, college, parks, movies and many other places, you meet people and then you may or may not find a partner but is it the same with people with disabilities? What are ways of finding a partner for them?
As a child, one wonders how do people with disabilities have relationships, is it just like ‘normal’ people or is it different, how do they have intercourse, and during the making of the film I realised that sex and sexuality is as much a taboo for disabled people as it is for non-disabled people. The difference is that with a lot of disabled people sex is often about violence and not desire. A lot of normal people hold the view that, how can they even desire for something like sex? It’s a misconception because disability is a spectrum and not all disabilities are debilitating when it comes to reproductive rights. We need to understand that and encourage and support reproductive rights for people with disabilities.
#3 Coming back to your film, do you think it has been received well?
What I like the most is that small organisations and groups are doing screenings of the film with not so large groups, the film is there to be shared and I think it is happening in an organic way which makes me really happy. Besides, it has been to many festivals and was also made a special mention of in the National Film awards in 2014.
# 4 Anything during the making of the film that has stayed with you?
There are many things but I remember this one incident as a learning. Even though I am sensitive to disabilities and I was making a film on it, I realised that’s easy to overlook the nuances related to disabilities. So, one of the people featured in the film has a disability that doesn’t let her take the stairs, and we were shooting a sequence which I thought could be shot at my place. So, invited all the people who were needed for that shoot to my place which in a multi-storey building. What I didn’t realise was that my building didn’t have an elevator, I felt really stupid because it caused a lot of inconvenience and I felt I should have remembered that fact.
Another incident was during the shooting the last sequence of the film. It involved the main characters interpreting the word ‘sexy’. And it was quite remarkable that all of them interpreted that word in different ways just like the so called normal people. Basically as a filmmaker I realised that your assumptions are often challenged and you should be open to accept them.
# 5 Do you plan to remain engaged with this subject as a filmmaker?
I am working on my 3rd film now and I am also applying for a PHD. My subject is on disability and engaging with people with disabilities in order to finally work towards creating a facilitating atmosphere for filmmakers with disabilities. I hope to get both disabled and non-disabled filmmakers to collaborate to make films.
# 6 Finally, do you think attitudes towards people with disabilities are changing very slowly?
See, no change happens overnight or in a short time. As people striving for positive social transformation we have to continue our efforts and believe that change is happening, and it happening according to me. Gradually but it is happening. Today what is needed is more, much more communication between disabled and non-disabled people. There is often this mysterious silence between disabled and non-disabled people. Somehow it doesn’t go beyond pity, sympathy or apathy.
I believe it is incumbent on both non-disabled as well as disabled people to make each other comfortable. The government needs to create spaces where disabled and non-disabled can mingle with each other. And yes, of course everybody should have some basic sensitivity towards people with disabilities. And then when you ask honest questions, people with disabilities would be able to interact as ‘normally’ as possible.
# 7 What according to you are some steps that will ensure this attitudinal change starts with children?
Education! Of course that is the one way we can ensure that future generations are better sensitised and understanding. Today, in schools, either disabled children don’t get admission or they are thoroughly misunderstood, discriminated and made to feel inadequate. If we start with a more disabled-friendly curriculum, sensitive teachers and appropriate infrastructure there is no reason why we won’t see a more disabled-inclusive and friendly India.