Destiny Desire Devotion

Atif Ghani reviews Zahid Dar's first film
By Atif Ghani

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Destiny Desire Devotion,
Zahid Dar,
16mm, 10 minutes, 1994

Some things just need to be said; some issues need to be aired. Zahid Dar's first film Destiny Desire Devotion reveals those issues but in ways that are not entirely satisfying. Through the optic of a women's afternoon gathering, Dar attempts to initiate a discussion revolving around gay male sexuality within the confines of a South Asian community. Dar develops the issues of generational perceptions and expectation, and notions of what is 'proper' through a mother's struggle to come to terms with her son's sexual orientation. The central core of the narrative revolves around a mother's attempts to 'understand' her son's personal choices as juxtaposed to her imagined marital celebrations of her son to another man.

Substantively, Dar pushes many needed-to-be-asked questions to the forefront: what is the place of gay male relations within the South Asian diaspora? Is there a space for dialogue, a space for the mending of perceived cultural tensions? Or will the reality of homosexuality be forever locked away in the attics of South Asian cultures.

In addressing the question of same sex relations, Dar uses the double edged sword of deviance. In an exchange within the group, one woman speaks mournfully of 'our dysfunctional children': a heroin junkie who is 'almost off the heroin' and a daughter who is presently undergoing 'electro-shock therapy' are brought in as parallel problems to a gay child. What is successfully revealed are the ways in which very different social issues are easily perceived as 'dysfunctional' within existing South Asian cultural norms. The scene, however, could be read as revealing social 'issues' like drug abuse and mental illness as being more broadly acceptable within perceived South Asian communities rather than, say, issues of sexuality. The danger in this strategy lies in the reproduction of issues relating to sexual orientation as falling within a binary framework of illness/cures.

a heroin junkie who is 'almost off the heroin' and a daughter who is presently undergoing 'electro-shock therapy' are brought in as parallel problems to a gay child.

Although Dar is successful in isolating and revealing the 'issues,' the representational techniques he uses fall short of revealing the full complexities of those very 'issues.' A moment where his limitations are revealed are in the scenes of the women's afternoon gathering. This scene could have been an exploration of the ways in which social values are reproduced from generation to generation, through the apparatus of 'women's spaces' or oral history, for example. The emergence and reproduction of homophobia within South Asian communities is not a simple process.

It is too easy to play out homophobic tensions into bad/good or illness/cure formulations.

The film fails to sustain a complex level of discussion, both literally within the scenes of the women's discussions, and also in a larger sense—as a polemical text. As a result, the film fails to lay down a foundation for a constructive dialogue around issues of sexuality for South Asian communities.

It seems to me that the goal for a piece such as this might have been not only to reveal the limits of people's fetish of the 'proper,' but in delineating the construction of this need. Clearly, film practitioners are limited by factors such as funding and experience, but in representing the emergence of cultural identities, we must try to transcend our immediate social contexts and attempt to speak at a level which avoids reproducing prevailing social conceptualisations. Put simply, we need to tell stories differently, and not allow ourselves to get caught in situations where we are using a familiar vocabulary to tell new stories. We need to begin the more difficult task of imagining alternative ways of imaging and imagining.

Formally, the film reveals the weaknesses of a first time director: with the odd shot out of focus, abrupt cuts on the soundtrack, and occasionally muffled dialogue. Nevertheless, the film is an important response to the state of the debate around issues of sexuality in the South Asian diaspora. Dar is only one of a handful of South Asian cultural practitioners in Britain attempting to explore issues of male sexuality. The problem with the film is not in the issues that it raises: these issues must be raised. The problem which the film does not solve is in how to reveal the complexities and specificities of these issues, whilst paving the way toward initiating a meaningful and constructive dialogue within South Asian communities.

Frieze and handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
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Atif Ghani
Atif Ghani is an Edmontonian, living and playing in London.
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