When I picked up my ticket for Guru, A Hijra family at the Raindance box office, the staffer told me I wouldn't be disappointed. He was right and I was glad my first-ever Raindance screening was so damn good.

Guru, a Hijra family, directed by Laurie Colson and Axelle Le Dauphin, is a documentary that closely follows the daily life of a family of hijras in India. I went into the screening blind (other than knowing it was a documentary and directed by women, I didn't do any research) and as a result my introduction to the hijra community was incredibly moving.

Hijra is a term used to describe trans-women (although it can also refer to crossdressers and eunuchs) but in India it is more commonly referred to as "the third gender" for they are neither men or women but somewhere in between. They hold a revered place in India's history and religious culture, thought to bring good fortune and fertility, yet at the same time are almost entirely ostracized by society. Most often, hijras are abandoned by their families and end up forming a new hijra family with a guru (older, mother-like figure) and daughters/sisters. Job options are limited—some are able to dance at weddings and festivities; others beg and offer blessings; and some turn to sex working. Interestingly, the hijra way of life is very spiritual and closely tied with religion.

Guru, A Hijra family presents all of this information through the voices of one hijra family. Rather than educating through fact, this documentary opts to do so through experience. Meaning: you won't find any talking heads from sociology experts, nor infographics or statistics. Instead, stories. Beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring stories.

Accompanied by voice overs detailing hijra history and personal accounts, the camera gracefully and respectfully captures hijras as they go about their daily lives. The shots are sometimes through a doorway or around a corner as if the audience is quite literally peeking into this world. The result is deeply intimate and it felt like I was right there with these women.

Along with the stunning cinematography, I was taken aback by how gracious and noble these women are. Guru Lakshmi Amma opens the film by professing her wish to be a good guru to her daughters, saying she teaches them that "it's not enough to live for oneself, one has to earn their respect in society." Despite being seen as outcasts, this family tries to live their lives nobly and respectfully. At one point, one of the women discusses how the hijra community offers them freedom through safety and acceptance but there are still boundaries and walls that come along with it. A double-edged sort of freedom.

This doc is wholly the voices of Lakshmi Amma and her daughters. There are no outside ideas or opinions to take away from their story. This again adds to that feeling of really being there as part of the family. Whilst I would be very intrigued to hear from other members of Indian society about what they think of hijras, I wouldn't want it here because that's not the point.

The point is that these women are human beings with feelings and heart and laughter. They deserve to be seen simply for who they are and Guru, A Hijra family offers just that.


Raindance Film Festival runs from 21 September to 2 October 2016. Learn more about the festival here and read more of our festival coverage here. You can catch the next screening of Guru, A Hijra Family on Wednesday 28th September. Tickets are available here.