Sex worker turned author celebrates Kerala film award

It has been over 15 years since Nalini Jameela shocked mainstream societal mindsets and turned patriarchy upside down by writing a groundbreaking autobiography about her daring and frightening life as a sex worker.

Since then, she has lived through several identities in life, moving from bestselling author and activist to gender expert and social relations advisor and now at 69 she is a recipient of the prestigious Kerala State Film Awards. Jameela awarded the jury’s special mention for costume design in the film “Bharathapuzha”, directed by Manilal, when the state government awards were announced here on Saturday.

For Jameela, it was yet another unexpected turn life had in store for her and she had the audacity to say that the lessons she learned from her youth as a sex worker were her basis for any further achievement. “The state award was really unexpected… It was the first time in my life that I was doing costume design for a movie. I treasure this honor as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, ”Jameela told PTI.

Noting that the experience makes a person strong and daring, she said that it was a lot of her experiences, whether good or bad, that made her able to fight all obstacles and reach this milestone. of life. “Bharathapuzha revolves around the story of Sugandhi, a sex worker in her thirties from the central Kerala district of Thrissur.

Actress Siji Pradeep played the central character of the film focused on women, which deals with several gender issues.
“Choosing the character’s costumes, I saw myself in her… me as a sex worker when I was young. I have never used sarees or expensive ornaments in life and I don’t even like wearing a bindi. I tried to reflect these characteristics in the physical personality of the heroine, ”she said.

Jameela also said that by designing outfits for the heroine and helping her with the manners and body language of a young sex worker, the terrible memories of the dark past came back.

“I spent days with the film crew, especially the heroine, to give them all the support they needed. There were scenes in the film that I could relate to that of my life… ”, explained the activist. It was her long-standing friendship with Manilal, the director, that brought her to the world of garlands.

When discussing the project with her, Jameela never imagined that she would be entrusted with the costume design. But, she decided to take up the new challenge and managed to finish the job according to the filmmaker’s expectations. “I worked from my own perspective. But the best part is that the director was convinced of what I was trying to say. It gave me the freedom to follow my mind when designing and selecting the costumes, ”the older woman added.

Third standard dropout, Jameela was forced into prostitution at a very young age following the death of her husband who died of cancer. As she ran from pillar to post to care for her family and raise her two daughters, she had no choice but to engage in sex work as a profession, which mainstream society considered. as immoral and unethical. Years of working as a sex worker, police brutality, assaults by henchmen and endless physical torture inflicted by “clients” only gave Jameela extra energy to fight the hardships and break the taboo attached to sex workers.

Before becoming a sex worker and starting to stroll through bus terminals and train stations to solicit “clients”, she had worked in brickyards and domestic helpers to earn daily bread for those close to her. When she published “The Autobiography of a Sex Worker” in 2005 after retiring from sex work, he quickly emerged as one of the top sellers of Malayalam in addition to sparking a wide debate. on the fate of the unlucky community.

After the first book was translated into several languages ​​including English, she released another “Romantic Encounters of a Sex Worker”, a memoir that revolves around the relationships she has developed with “clients”. , in 2018. In addition to being a member of several NGOs, she has also worked as an advisor on gender and social relations and has taken courses in colleges and universities on the subject.

When asked if she would like to have a career in costume design, she replied that she was not sure if traditional filmmakers or production houses would give her an opportunity and if anything happened to her, she would definitely give it a try.

She said the new generation’s shift in perspective and empathetic approach to sex workers and LGBT people is a great comfort to community members. The 69-year-old also had the dream of releasing the film adaptation of her autobiography and setting up a care center for the elderly. “Those who came from the streets, worked in mud ovens and worked hard in someone’s garden as a domestic helper will surely have great strength and great courage to fight against obstacles and break the taboos of this patriarchal society, ”Jameela concluded.

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