Wearing jewels, lipstick and a sari and sporting scarlet nails, the protagonist defiantly stares back at the camera. For 24-year-old Muhammed Asif Cherachen, an androgynous model, it was cathartic to talk about his decision to be the master of his identity.
Vighnesh A Bhaskar’s nine-minute-film, Society Barks, draws attention to the abuse of boys. A student of Neo Film School in Kochi, Vighnesh says the film was completed as part of his course when he had to direct a character portrait. He came across Asif’s story on a popular Instagram account.
“I was moved by his struggle to overcome the trauma he had suffered as a child. I had no idea where he lived or if he would agree to act in a film. There are people who assume that only girl children are vulnerable in society,” says Vighnesh.
Serendipity came in the form of a friend who introduced him to Asif. When Vighnesh narrated what he had in mind, Asif immediately agreed. Using a stylised colour palette, Vighnesh’s frames have Asif narrating his story in the first person.
Nevertheless, Vighnesh recalls that during the filming, Asif was overcome with grief and rage when he mentioned the incident.
As an introvert, Asif says he was often bullied in school and the abuse only worsened the situation as he withdrew into a shell. He asserts that through the movie, he wants to request and remind society not to categorise or judge people on the basis of their looks, body language, or choice of clothes. It was only when he was 18 that he found the courage to share the details of his trauma with his elder sister.
He hopes that the film will make people aware that all children, irrespective of gender, should be protected. “Perhaps my story might help someone like me to find the courage to speak up,” says Asif.
Society Barks is available on YouTube.