Tamil Features

In the Shadows: A Conversation with Living Smile Vidhya

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smile1Living Smile Vidhya, ‘Smiley’ to her intimates, is quietly ecstatic. As Tamil Cinema celebrates Bobby Simha’s National Award, her achievement has been largely ignored. Nanu Avanalla Avalu, the Kannada film which fetched actor Sanchari Vijay his Best Actor award was based on her autobiography, I Am Vidhya. Originally published in 2008, the book – which vividly details Vidya’s metamorphosis from a confused young boy to a proud transwoman – has been translated into several regional languages, and has even fetched one of its translators a Sahitya Akademi Award.

This new recognition of her work has Smiley doubly excited, arriving as it has on the eve of her birthday. “Eight years ago, when I wrote this book, I never even imagined this kind of recognition. I never knew that my story would go places.”

Though Smiley wrote it in Tamil, it was in Kannada that it found its onscreen translation. Lingadevaru, its director, got hold of the Kannada version of the book and set about recreating Smiley’s life. Sanchari Vijay, who’d played a transwoman in Prakash Raj’s Un Samayal Arayil was roped in to essay the role. Watching the story unfold in theatres was an emotional moment for Smiley. “I felt raw after watching the film. It was like revisiting my past all over again. I cried so much that I was unable to thank them for being true to the original. I am consumed with guilt now as I was not able to provide as much creative input as I could to the team.”

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The book was written at a time when Smiley was ‘flitting through life with careless abandon. “I was immature at the time, and thoroughly irresponsible. I feel more strongly about things now, but back then, I was in the thrall of finally getting to live life the way I’d always dreamed. Even the way I wrote it wasn’t that great. I’m not the greatest writer by any means.”
It was also quite an emotional experience for Smiley to relive her past. “It was cathartic, true. But it was also quite painful to relive the suffering I’d endured before. I wrote it in record time, and didn’t even go back to check for mistakes. My publisher chose to send it to the printing press as it was.”

smile2Her friend Balabharathi provided all the motivation that she needed. “I needed a lot of support at the time. I was 25, and didn’t know much. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have come this long.” she admits.

Aside from all this, Smiley is also a well-known theatre artiste and avid blogger, having entered the scene when blogging was still new. Her outspoken beliefs do land her in hot water now and then. Especially with ardent Tamil cinema fans. “I have strong opinions and I am never afraid to voice them. Many times in the past, I’ve been criticised for them. Trolled. Abused. But these very same people have later become my friends. That’s life,” she shrugs.

Smiley also has a deep and abiding love for cinema. She assisted Mysskin during Nandalala, is an ardent fan of the filmmaker, and is of the opinion that he is one of the very few people who portray transwomen sensitively in cinema. “In Onaayum Aattukuttiyum, Angel Glady has a pivotal role to play. The way Mysskin has portrayed her really affected me. Such sensitivity is hard to come across these days.”

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