Benjamin Daimary, the first gay actor to get the jury special mention in the 67th National Film Awards for his debut film Jonaki Porua (Fireflies) shares his journey and current life.
Last year on March 22, when Benjamin Daimary became India’s first gay actor to win a national film award, not only was it a proud moment for him but also his village, Goreswar in Assam which now, has a different outlook on the people from the LGBTQIA+ community. Their perceptions about the community have changed and it is visible, as Daimary says.
Certainly, it is a matter of content for Daimary to have observed such changes who was brought up in the same place that mocked him during his childhood days because “he was different”. But with the portrayal of a transgender character, Jahnu, played by Daimary who dreams of transitioning into a woman in the Assamese film titled Jonaki Porua (Fireflies), things changed for both his village and Daimary as he received a feat never expected. “I had never thought of winning even a single award, let alone a national film award,” the 21-year-old says.
This could be the rationale why the moment of coming across the win is a special memory for Daimary. He was in Mumbai at that time; searching for jobs and going to production houses, when on one random day, the director of the Jonaki Porua, Prakash Deka, called him to ask about his whereabouts and informed him about the win. Daimary could not grasp what it was and asked, “Award, why?” to which Deka replied, “Of course – for our film!” Daimary could not believe his ears and searched the internet on his own. As his name appeared on the “jury special mention at the 67th National Film Awards”, now, he could not believe his eyes. “I checked each letter of my name to be definite that it was me and not anyone else,” Daimary says with a good laugh on a phone call from Assam.
The confirmation was then followed by Daimary calling his best friend to scream out loud in happiness! However, he could still not be assured of the win until he received a call from an Assamese journalist. Daimary has also been awarded the Best Actor in a leading role at the 11th Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival 2020. Another ‘Best Actor of the Year’ has been conferred to him by the Prag Cine Awards 2021.
Belongingness in theatre and make-up art
Being shy and an introvert since childhood and knowing that he was “different” from others, Daimary could only find comfort with himself. And that is how his theatre journey commenced one fine day during his summer vacation in 2014. To avoid being bullied or coming across names, he chose not to meet and play with kids of his age. During this time, he got to know of a drama workshop where his sisters had participated, and he enrolled himself too. It was a different world and Daimary developed an interest in becoming a part of that world.
The beginning proceeded with many plays and dramas he participated in, to which he says, “It’s fun and relaxing when we get to make our own props for theatre plays.” Simultaneously, Daimary also developed an interest in make-up and learned the art through YouTube tutorials. He would often apply the learning to his mother and sisters. He got a fortunate stroke of serendipity to showcase his skills in a fashion show through a beauty pageant where his sister had participated. A choreographer not only appreciated his make-up skills at the pageant but also called it “professional” and invited him to his show. Daimary remembers travelling nearly 8-9 hours to get that paid deal. Fast forward to 2022, when he has acted in more than 50 theatre dramas and owns his studio academy in his hometown.
Having an inclination toward natural acting and art movies, when he was called for the auditions for Fireflies, he was not very much aware of how to act for a film. But after three days of auditioning, he made it to the lead cast. Whether or not his sexuality as gay could have helped him with the role as a transgender in the film, Daimary maintains, that it is not easy to get a role in the mainstream cinema, that is not centered around sexualities. “Since I am gay with feminine attributes, I do not fit for all the roles written for actors who are cisgender. I want to play a part other than that speaks of my sexual orientation.” Daimary says.
While his family was always supportive of his acting choice on the pretext that the queer community is best accepted in the field, Daimary states that the reality is a bit tweaked. “There is acceptance in the mainstream cinema but for behind the camera. It is very easy to spot the people from the community in the production houses but rarely do the people get an opportunity to be in front of the camera with acting roles,” he says.
The misrepresentation of the queer community in mainstream cinema is yet another concern, as Daimary highlights. He says that unless producers and directors take risks with the newcomers and the actors from the queer community for the roles of the LGBTQIA+ persons, the authenticity and “correct representation” can not be ensured.
Nevertheless the shortcomings, Daimary does not forget to mention how the Indian cinema has begun making films around the issues and concerns of the queer community and is hopeful for the inclusion of the community soon. Meanwhile, the fashion choreographer is acing the make-up skills as he travels for various fashion shows.