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Shadows in the Clear Light of Day: Making Tales of the Night Fairies

Shohini Ghosh

The other is in me and in the midst of my very identification. -- Emanuel Levinas   Growing up is an endless negotiation with borders. City limits are set not just by territorial boundaries but invisible demarcations – like the one that marks out the respectable areas from the disreputable ones. As children and then teenagers, we were told never to cross into red-light areas and we were told never to cross the line that separated the good woman from the bad one. At the time, the term sex worker was not yet born. We learnt the word `prostitute’ very early – as both pejorative and cautionary. The only `prostitutes’ we saw were on films. The ones we saw in real life, we didn’t recognize because they didn’t look like the ones on films. Yet she haunted our imagination and we talked about her in tentative whispers-- endlessly. The shadow of the prostitute clung to us as did our curiosity about the shadow city. Then began the journeys of growing up and no matter where we went, she followed us. For every transgression, real or imagined, the shadow of the prostitute fell on us -- clearer than the light of day.   Tales of the Night Fairies is a 74 min documentary about the struggles of the women of DMSC, a collective of about 60, 000 sex workers in West Bengal who have come together to fight for their legal and social rights. One of their demands is that they should be recognized as labourers and allowed to form a trade union. The Durbar Women’s Collaborative Committee (DMSC), which emerged from the work of the Shonagachi HIV/AIDS Intervention Project (SHIP), spearheads the sex workers’ rights movement. The Bengali word Durbaar means `indomitable' or `unstoppable. Through the stories of five sex workers located in the different red-light areas of Calcutta and the journey of the filmmaker/narrator, the documentary attempts to make a feminist intervention in the divisive and contested debate around the issues of trafficking and sex work.   The city of Calcutta is both the backdrop and a protagonist in the film. Conventionally, sex workers have always been relegated to the invisible boundaries of red-light areas. In Tales of the Night Fairies, I have visually tried to confound the borders between red-light areas and the rest of the city just as I have tried to erase the distinctions, albeit imaginary and/or constructed, ...

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