Mainstream cinema does not have a good track record of representing transgender persons sensitively. They’ve been cast in roles meant to make one laugh – like with Bobby Darling as a sidekick in several films, or comedian Vivekh playing a trans woman in Murattu Kalai; and more recently as villains whose repressed sexuality somehow turns violent – in movies like I and Iru Mugan. And then there are movies like the Vijay Sethupthy-starring Dharmadurai, where he ‘helps’ transwoman Jeeva who in-turn falls on his feet in gratitude.
Films that portray trans persons with respect are countable, and those casting them in lead roles are even fewer. Transgender activists and filmmakers like Kalki Subramaniam and Priya Babu have repeatedly called out offensive representation, and this gap between reality and cinema. There’s also no one from the community in CBFC, and Priya suggests that the board requires their representation to help prevent derogatory references to the community in movies.
That said, in the few exceptions listed below, films have cast actors from the community like Anjali Ameer and Anjali Varadhan in lead or supporting roles; and others have cast men as trans women, but done it well. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), here’s a look back at some of these films with positive depictions of trans persons.
This Tamil drama starring Kalki Subramaniam as a lead, is based on real-life incidents of transgender persons. It’s set in a village in Thanjavur, and is about the life of a trans woman who tries to understand the changes in herself, even as her father, a silambam teacher, is confused with this transformation. While the film is full of cliches, and the story is quite loose, this was one of the first attempts of its kind. Written and directed by Vijayapadma and produced by Punnagai Poo Gheetha, the film also starred Vivin and Girish Karnad in lead roles.
In the same year, Raghava Lawrence’s Kanchana featured Sarathkumar as a trans woman disowned by her parents. It was a horror-comedy about a man possessed by the ghost of the trans woman who wanted to take revenge on an MLA who murdered her family in a case of land-grabbing. The film, produced in Tamil and dubbed in Telugu was a sequel of Lawrence’s 2007 film Muni. It was also later remade in Kannada as Kalpana.
Murattu Kaalai (2012):
Actor-comedian Vivekh played a trans woman in this Tamil film. Although he was a supporting actor, his role was key to the plot and its climax, with dialogues bringing out issues of everyday discrimination that trans people face. The film has even been termed as his ‘come-back’, unlike other roles that reek with sexist comments. It was directed by K Selva Bharathi, and starred Sundar C. and Sneha in the lead roles.
Transwoman Anjali Ameer played the female-lead in this Mammotty-starrer that has been a festival favourite. Directed by Ram, the film is about a father-daughter relationship, and also starred Sadhana and model Anjali in the lead roles. While the film itself had nothing to do with the lives of trans persons, this was a first time for mainstream cinema to cast a transwoman in a lead role.
The lead character Rohini’s right hand, Basu, in this Malayalam film is played by trans woman Savitha – a strong, charming character who runs a computer centre and moves around on a bike. In an interview she even said that Thira was the only movie she knew to give a trans person an eminent role. The movie was directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan and starred Shobana alongside debutant Dhyan Sreenivasan in the lead roles.
Director Arun Prabhu’s debut Aruvi played by Aditi Balan, stars Anjali Varadhan, a trans rights activist as Aruvi’s friend and confidante. When Aruvi contracts AIDS and is sent out of home, she lives with Emily, played by Anjali. Although Emily’s is a positive depiction, as she supports Aruvi throughout, her own struggles as a trans woman is not explored much.
Directed by Pa Ranjith, Kaala talks of Tamil migrants settled in Mumbai’s Dharavi. A trans woman actors plays the role of one of the residents of the slum. As Kaala’s daughter-in-law Anjali Patil’s friend, she too fights against the government alongside others. In the film, no big deal is made of her gender identity, she is as normal as everybody else living in Dharavi’s chawls, an empowering and positive treatment by a filmmaker who understands that oppression of all kinds are linked and need to be dismantled for true equality.
Feature image courtesy: Indiaglitz