It’s Not My Choice: A Film To Endure For Many Years To Come.

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The character Sanathoi, who was brilliantly portrayed by Bishesh Huirem in the Priyakanta Laishram-helmed 2015 film “It’s Not My Choice (Eina Khankhiba Natte)”, said, “I, we don’t have any reasons for why we are queer. It is not a route we intentionally considered. It’s not my choice.” As implied by the title, the movie explores the reasons why being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, or queer is not a question of choice. It suggests that these identities are as innate and natural as those of heterosexual people. 

Priyakanta Laishram, the writer and director, infuses compassion and an ample canvas into a story that is much needed in Manipur and throughout India, where the LGBT populace continues to face significant intolerance and taboos. Hopefully, in a time not too far off, movies like “It’s Not My Choice” will feel, if not dated, then at least familiar, as they belong to a genre all their own. This genre isn’t a coming-of-age story, but rather a coming-of-self story that follows the specific stages of recognizing and accepting one’s queer identity and ultimately living that truth out loud. Nevertheless, this particular short film was the first from Northeast India to receive one million views on YouTube, as well as the first to receive one lakh views initially.

“Is it something that I chose to become?” Sanathoi cross-questioned a shopkeeper who was making fun of her identity in one of the movie’s early scenes. From that point on, it is evident that this would not be another Manipuri movie or show where transgender or queer characters are portrayed in a devil-may-care manner. There is a revolution happening. ‘It’s Not My Choice’ is a rare gem that will alter you; in Manipur, there are very few, if any, films that keep you watching all the way through, especially when it comes to LGBT identities. You’ll have more empathy for transgender people you encounter in the future. It will enable you to comprehend their journey. The 14-minute film does more in its brief running time than any other Manipuri feature film in its genre that is two or three hours long.

What gets to me about this complex and nuanced picture of gender identity is that its writer, editor, and director, Priyakanta Laishram, at the age of 17, tackled such a difficult and contentious subject. Given his other groundbreaking films like I am Special, The Foul Truth, Who Said Boys Can’t Wear Makeup?, Spaced Out – Panthung Di Kadaaida, and the impending 2024 feature, Oneness, it’s no surprise that he has emerged as one of the most sensible filmmakers working in the Manipuri cinema today. As cliche as it may sound, I hope the adage “writing is king” holds in light of this movie, which succeeds largely due to its precise and insightful screenplay and dialogue, in addition to its excellent and nuanced editing and direction.

It is safe to conclude that Bishesh Huirem gave her best and most subtle performance of her career in this film. Bishesh portrayed the character with great skill, grasping its subtleties from the opening to the closing moments of the film.

“Priyakanta, the film’s writer and director, is incredibly good in his area, so when people tell me they enjoy my performance in IT’S NOT MY CHOICE the most, I agree. When he first came to me and narrated the film, even though he was a little kid back then, I was left stunned. He had a clear sense of what he wanted and was highly professional. I knew nothing could go wrong with his direction and vision. And that’s precisely what occurred,” said lead actor Bishesh Huirem, the Miss International Queen India 2016.

As for the supporting cast, Ithoi Oinam as  Ayeengbi is the type of person that society should aspire to be; she helps her friend who is dealing with gender dysphoria in an empathetic and mature way. When Bishesh’s character Sanathoi was battling the security escorts on the street, Ithoi’s character Ayeengbi in the film was such a comfort and relief. The one brave and selfless step Ayeengbi made on behalf of Sanathoi provided a feeling of hope and identity. On the contrary, the representation of a transphobic and strict parent by Chakpram Idhou accurately represents our society. Ithoi Oinam and Chakpram Idhou each performed their roles in the movie with effectiveness and impact, making a lasting impression on the audience.

The film was produced by Harendra Laishram under Priyakanta’s production company, Priyakanta Productions. Caroline Laishram did the realistic costume and hairstyle for the film, Balli Ningthoujam provided the impactful audiography, Momo Khurai handled the simple and effective cinematography, Chanchal Guru and Bicha did decent makeup, and all of these elements combined to create a wonderful piece of work.

During the massive protests and rioting of the Inner Line Permit in Manipur, August 8, 2015, marked the start of the film’s principal photography, which concluded on August 9, 2015, over two days.

The film made its debut in Imphal on September 1, 2015, at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences. It was subsequently premiered at Panjab University, Chandigarh on October 20, 2015, Delhi University on October 25, 2015, and Mumbai University on January 3, 2017. With screenings at 25 international and national film festivals, the film received the Special Jury Mention Award for Bishesh Huirem and the Best Film On Social Cause for Priyakanta Laishram at the Highland Independent Film Festival 2015, Shimla. It also won the Best Filmmaker For A Cause and Best Story for Priyakanta Laishram at the Jalandhar Short Film Festival 2015, as well as an Honorable Mention for Bishesh Huirem at the Riverdale International Short Film Festival 2017. Subsequently, the film premiered for online streaming on YouTube on January 15, 2017, and became the first short film from Northeast India to reach one lakh views, and one million views.

It’s Not My Choice is an honest-to-goodness, hard-hitting tale of a trans person. Priyakanta Laishram and Bishesh Huirem deserve praise for the great attention to detail they put into making the transgender character look authentic and the problems feel genuine. I have no doubt it will rank among the greatest of its kind for years to come, which is why study articles are already discussing and analyzing it. 

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