Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, filmmaker Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi and music composer Santhosh Narayanan released their music video. Titled Sadhayai Meeri, it asks us to show some love, and empathise with members of the transgender community.
A young kid – born to a policeman and his wife – runs away from home after the child’s gender expression prompts the father to beat them. A visibly transgender person stares at a public restroom, debating whether to enter the male toilet or female. A young person – whose initial gender expression is female – tries to make up their mind about their clothes. A trans woman – dancer – performer – prepares for a show. All she wants, approval.
We see the arcs develop from beginnings to endings – sometimes happy and satisfying, sometimes poignant. All credit to the filmmaker, who manages to tell these five-six short stories in a video under 5 minutes.
When news of the video hit the media, we at Silverscreen (meaning me) had a bit of a rant. Suspecting the intentions, and the need for such a video, I believed that this video would be bad, appropriative, and completely unnecessary.
I could not have been more wrong.
Sadhayai Meeri is moving, evocative, and does indeed show us that all people are deserving of our love.
There are good intentions. And there are intentions which have good outcomes.
Sadhayai Meeri falls in the latter category.
Despite some clichés, a slightly incorrect grasp of biology, and some quibble-worthy things here and there, the video achieves what it sets out to do. It moves us – it makes us look beyond the flesh, beyond the surface. And see the trans person.
Then it makes us love them for exactly who they are.
Good intentions are good. The problem is – they often come from people who never lived the problem. Poverty. Falling Standards in Education. Farmer Deaths. Fair Elections in a Former Dictatorship. Black on Black deaths. Patriarchal, Oppressive Systems. Casteism. Sexism. Transmisogyny. Homophobia.
It’s not the poor who write about poverty. Not the illiterate who hold forth about the terrible state of education in the country. Not the farmers who write op-eds about farmer suicides.
Yet, these are the people who end up becoming the “experts”. Like the world needs to give them a prize for their oh-so-kind heart. These people – far more privileged than their favourite topics – end up appropriating that space.
In time, the whine of the expert has replaced the cry of the disadvantaged.
That’s why when cis-heterosexual persons want to make a video about trans people – we are wary.
*[Cis-gender persons identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, and have consequently faced very little violence and oppression for their gender choices, identity, expression and sexuality.]
There is a common refrain – both within the trans community and outside it – of this feeling of being “trapped in the wrong body”. That a trans woman is “merely a man in a dress”. That all this is just an act.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yet, film after film, TV show after TV show, sets these perceptions in place. Films like The Danish Girl – featuring Eddie Redmayne in drag, shows like Transparent featuring Jeffrey Tambor, and others perpetuate this stereotype. Indian films routinely portray the trans woman as an oversexed, hyper-sexual, vamp (I) or emasculated men in “odd” clothes (every “comic” routine ever).
There are many talented, amazingly beautiful trans actors. Laverne Cox, Angellica Ross, Jamie Clayton, to name a few.
But every time a film has a transgender character, the role is handed out to a man. This is how, despite the good intentions of the writer, director and producer, the violence continues. .
Two years ago, the youth wing of YashRaj films produced a music video. It was hailed as the first ever music video in India to feature trans women. Called the 6 Pack Band, these women covered Pharell William’s viral hit “Happy”, for their video.
That video too was touted as an attempt to bring the lives of trans women – hijras – into public consciousness, help us the regular public understand their lives better, and see them for who they are. However, some members of the queer community criticised the video – for how the lyrics centred on the very – straight-middle class-urban young man. How the song made gimmicky-prop-like use of the transwomen, and its overall confusing visuals.
Despite good intentions, that video did more harm than good.
Thankfully, Sadhayai Meeri is nothing like that.
Yes, the words are written by a man.
Yes, the music is by a man.
And yes, the singer – the voice – is a man.
But somewhere in all this, the director – Kiruthiga – has managed to keep it from being the “let me speak for you” debacle that the Y-Films video was. Here, the lyrics are a call to the average person – to “add sugar” to the mix.
Here the trans women, trans men, and the gender-fluid, gender-non conforming, gender questioning people live their lives, die their deaths. The camera simply watches, records, and shows us the 3-dimensional people they are. The video and the song do not take over their voices – it merely shows us as they are.
That is a great, great thing.
The term “transgender” is not a noun. It is not a proper, collective, or whatever noun. Trans-gender is an adjective and an adverb. It marks those who have “moved” – trans – from one gender to another. It’s a description of a person, just like “tall”, “brown haired”, “wide eyed” are. And so, just like there cannot be a “group of talls”, or a “wide eyes met for coffee”, you cannot have “transgenders acted” or any similar phrases. Do not deny the transgender person their personhood.
And so, perhaps, the only grouse I have with Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi and her video is the way “transgenders” was used in the promotion and marketing. Fix that, Kiruthiga and we’re solid.
(Disclaimer: The writer is not a cis-man.)