Closed doors and rejection await the characters from Leena Manimekalai’s documentary.
Leena Manimekalai’s film mixes elements of fiction and documentary to recount the encounters between two transwomen and potential landlords in Chennai. Is it Too Much to Ask? is aptly named. The film features Living Smile Vidya and Angel Glady, who have to move out of their apartment and find a new one at the soonest. The door nearly always opens to rejection, including the one time they nearly get a place to rent on the condition that they conceal the truth about their gender before the landlady’s husband walks in and shoos them away.
The dramatised encounters are interspersed with a performance in Chennai, in which the two transwomen use humour to highlight the prejudices, mistrust and discrimination that they frequently face. “The film is both scripted and has real-time encounters,” the filmmaker said. “When Smiley and Glady were devising their play Color of Trans, we included a sequence on house hunting and that became a part of the film as well.”
Manimekalai, who has the Sri Lanka-themed Sengadal (2011) and White Van Stories (2015) to her credit, completed Is it Too Much to Ask? in 2016, and it has been doing the round of festivals ever since.
Vidya and Glady are friends of the director, and the film flowed out of their shared woes over house-hunting. “It is almost impossible for single women as well to find a rental apartment in Chennai,” Manimekalai observed. “Of course, it is much more traumatic for transwomen. We decided to challenge the landlordism together. In that sense the film is intersectional.”
The documentary questions the “feudalist, casteist, classiest, misogynist society”, the director added. Vidya and Glady face rejections because of their gender identity as well as their single status and eating habits. In one hilarious encounter, Vidya has a conversation with a potential landlord during which she explains that she is not single by choice, and would love to settle down with the right person if she had a chance.
“Housing is one’s basic right, isn’t it?” Manimekalai said. “While making this film, I shifted two houses and they shifted three houses in a year and we wondered together how our lives were so defined by eternal displacement.”
After the film was completed, Glady migrated to Canada and has applied for asylum as a gender minority, the director said. As for Vidya, “You can pop in to Smiley’s Facebook page to find her still looking for a house. She is always on notice period.”
Manimekalai’s future projects include The Sunshine, which she is making along with the Sri Lankan Tamil writer Shobasakthi. She is also working on a biopic of the writer Kamala Das in collaboration with Merrily Wiesbord, the Canadian author of the biography The Love Queen of Malabar: Memories of Friendship with Kamala Das. The filmmaker has also completed what she describes as a “micro-budget independent fiction feature Maadathy”, which is about the “life and dreams of an adolescent girl from the Puthirai Vannar community” from Tirunelveli.