Please mind the gap captures the story of a trans man and his struggles with gender norms while commuting daily in the Delhi Metro
“Doors will open on the right. Please mind the gap.” Every Delhiite is all too familiar with this automated warning in the Metro. Thousands board and disembark the Delhi Metro, encountering many faces on the way, all trying to conform to the multiple instructions announced throughout the journey.
One of them is Anshuman, a trans man who is constantly juggling between complying and negotiating with the rules. His story is captured in a short film that takes the viewers on a Metro ride through his eyes, highlighting his fight against gender norms while commuting. Titled Please Mind the Gap, the documentary has two protagonists- Anshuman and the Delhi Metro.
Shot entirely in the Metro, the 20-minute film beautifully captures the nuances of travel in the trains. The announcements are beautifully juxtaposed between the shots. Passengers rushing in to grab a seat, kids playing around the support poles, people taking selfies, young boys and girls engrossed in their phones with headphones plugged — the film takes the viewers on a ride.
Co-directors Mitali Trivedi and Gagandeep Singh, are active theatre practitioners and also have day jobs. Mitali is a research scholar who did her Master’s in gender studies, while Gagandeep is a lawyer. “I was always interested in making a film on gender and sexuality,” says Mitali.
The initial idea was to make a film on public display of affection (PDA) in the Metro by queer couples. During this process they met Anshuman, who turned out to be a great storyteller. Gradually the idea took root of making a film on him. “He was very forthcoming. No hesitation. Not camera-shy at all,” Mitali adds.
Born as Raksha, Anshuman talks frankly about his daily ordeal while commuting. He recalls a day when a fellow passenger kept staring him in the Metro. A while later the stranger approached him and told him that he was also like him. Discovering he did not have much knowledge prior to this meeting, the stranger went on to explain the entire process of transition to Anshuman on the journey. “That was a happy day,” he says with a smile.
Accustomed to people staring him while trying to figure out his gender, Anshuman has come up with his own tactics to deal with the crowd. He prefers to stand or sit in the space between the two coaches and explains that it’s a safe place where he cannot be touched. Since he is still in the process of transitioning, he is wary of the frisking process during security checks.
Treated as a ‘bhai’ by other passengers during security checks, he tries to avoid attending phone calls on the journey. “It’s best that these brothers do not figure out who I am.” In another scene, he recalls two men loudly suggesting on hitting his chest to figure out his gender.
The film describes the Metro as a heteronormative space. Shots of a matrimonial ad are consciously shown to establish this. According to the directors, the advertisements imply that if only those with a gender conforming, heterosexual family can take a life insurance policy. Matrimonial ads too, are based on the same setting.
“From a gender perspective, I feel Metro is a public space that creates a distinction between genders right from the moment you enter. The security checks, the coaches, everywhere the division is very apparent; that made it very interesting to see how a trans person would navigate this space,” explains Mitali.
The film subtly drives home its message without preaching. Small incidents like the humiliation he faced while using public toilets, choosing the general or ladies compartment, trying various ways to prevent his breasts from growing in his teenage years, very deftly interpret the narrow understanding of gender in the society.
The title of the film holds true for Anshuman, who is always mindful of the gap. His story begins with a stranger who did not mind the gap and approached him. But when it comes to not answering calls while travelling, he is minding the gap. Sometimes he is asserting the gap, other times he is defying it. Not just Anshuman, the filmmakers too were minding the gap as they were always on the lookout for anyone who would catch them shooting at the Metro premises. They went on to have a guerrilla shoot throughout and the film was shot entirely on phones.
Not belonging to the community, the directors were cautious of not falling in the trap of victimising and objectifying Anshuman. “We wanted to go beyond the gender identity because he himself would not allow us to restrict him to that, they say. The film is being screened at several film festivals and across several universities and colleges.
The closing scene perfectly captures the story of someone who has been born as a girl but now identifies himself as a man. Anshuman rushes to board a lady’s compartment where he seems visibly uncomfortable and decides to shift to a general coach as the train departs.