Magazine article New Internationalist

[The Square Circle]

Magazine article New Internationalist

[The Square Circle]

Article excerpt

You can almost hear the sound of traditions crashing around Amol Palekar's The Square Circle. Hailed as a landmark film of the popular Indian cinema, its subject matter -- male/female transvestism -- is rare by any standards. It's been a hit in festivals all around the world but has yet to be released in mainstream cinemas in India itself. Given its trenchant criticisms of social and gender restrictions though, that's hardly surprising. Writer Timeri Murari, who is also an author and international journalist, has created a Hindi language script at first sight antithetical to the Bollywood style. But the entertaining mix of comedy, melodrama and occasional music, comes across as a more restrained variant on formula cinema. Where it really sparks is in its ideas, striking and intelligent enough to make it unique. It's set in Southern India, where a young man trained as a female performer in folk theatre is made redundant when a real woman takes over his roles. Since he is a transvestite both on and off stage he suddenly finds himself rootless in the countryside. Played by Nirmal Pandey, best known for his role as the Bandit Queen's outlaw leader and lover, the transvestite is an affecting mix of vulnerability and thin bravado. His enforced independence is tested when he encounters a young woman on the run from a kidnap attempt by brothel keepers. After she is brutally raped by a gang of bikers, the transvestite takes her under his wing and they both head back for her home. For added protection, he cuts her hair, steals boys' clothing for her, teaches her a convincing male persona and, in a final flourish, sticks a little moustache on her. …

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