Harsh Beauty

2005 | Body Image / Documentary / Gender / Health/Medicine / Human Rights / Race and Culture / Religion/Spirituality / Representation / Social Issues / Transgender | 54m | India
Directors: Alessandra Zeka

Existing as they have for centuries, the eunuchs (or Hijra) of India are considered the third gender, neither men nor women. The 2005 documentary Harsh Beauty follows over a period of three years the lives of Jyothi, Usha and hira bai; three Eunuchs who live openly as women, and want to be accepted as their true selves.

This one hour-documentary uses a verite approach, creating intimate and personal accounts of their lives, without presenting an anthropological perspective. Set against the vibrant energy of the Indian metropolis, Harsh Beauty takes a glance into a society rarely seen and often misunderstood.

Reviews and Awards

“… Alessandra Zeka’s Harsh Beauty follows a trio of individuals—Jyothi, Usha, and Hira Bai—who discuss the personal challenges of being a hijra (eunuch) in contemporary India. Considered the ‘third gender’ (neither men, nor women), all three subjects live openly as females and view themselves as part of the hijra tradition, which has existed in India for centuries. Jyoti, who joined a eunuch colony, talks about the decision to undergo an operation to remove her male genitalia (she and Usha are castrated males), as well as how she became a spiritual medium sought by shopkeepers in her village to remove the ‘evil eye.’ Usha shares her thoughts on the difficulty of finding a mate, her fear of dying alone, and the relative comfort of the eunuch community. Hira Bai is a member of parliament and makes it her personal mission to defend the hijra’s rights and increase their standing in the community. Solid production values underscore these intimate interviews (each of the subjects talk candidly about their struggles with personal identity, particulars of dating and sexual relations, and the trials of living life on the fringe of society), which focus on the personal rather than the anthropological. A thought-provoking documentary that would be a good choice for human sexuality and gender studies collections, this is recommended.” —A. Cant, Video Librarian