Tamil Reviews

Sigai Review: A Film That Rides On The Cliches Of Trans Femininity

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Director: Jagadeesan Subu

Cast: Kathir, Riythvika, Mira Nair, Mayilsamy

Composer: Ron Ethan Yohaan

Sigai was to release in theatres this Pongal, but because it went up against Ajith’s Viswasam and Rajinikanth’s Petta, it didn’t find any takers and so had to be released on streaming platform Zee5. This is an issue because Zee5’s tech needs considerable tweaking before it can play a film without pauses, buffers, time-outs, unexplained jumps in streaming, constantly popping-up dialog boxes, and the like. Even getting to the premium page (Sigai is premium content), to subscribe and to pay for one’s subscription is a task, might as well attempt to buy a first-day-first-show ticket to Petta an hour before release.

But perhaps, Zee5 is the better “screen” for Sigai. If it did go up on the big screens, it may have lost out in the race – not just because it has no big-name actors except Kathir and Riythvika, but also because the film moves at a glacial pace for its 1.5 hour run time. Considering it is a murder mystery, this is baffling.

*****

Sigai is written and directed by Jagadeesan Subu, and produced by Vignesh Logu. It stars Raj Bharat, Riythvika, Meera Nair, Kathir, Mayilsami, Rajesh Sharma and others. The film was shot by cinematographer Navin Kumar and edited by Anucharan, and has a background score and music by Ron Ethan.

*****

Sigai is a murder mystery. But there are no police chases, no drum beats accelerating as the killer runs from the scene, no mysterious men lurking in shadows, no confusing motives and multiple threads and suspects hanging loose till the last minute denouement and perfect explanation. For the most part, the film feels slow. But that may just be a good thing.

Reviews and reports of Sigai are so far focused on Kathir’s performance as a person coming out as transgender. Kathir apparently “shines” as a trans woman. I found this a tiny bit confusing. Kathir makes his first appearance on screen somewhere around the one-hour mark of this 1.5 hour film. And for most of his role, Kathir as Mathivaanan does not fit the “prescribed” norms of a trans woman in Tamil cinema. This is a good thing. But what follows isn’t.

Because the very first thing Mathivaanan does, after declaring herself to be trans, is to stand in front of a mirror and “feminise” herself. Shave, lipstick, eyeliner. These are cliches of trans femininity that every filmmaker, every documentary photographer, every writer, every theatre artist faithfully replicate. Perhaps these are stand-ins for the long complicated process of transitioning every trans person goes through, but seen on screen, and often performed by persons perceived to be men, this is an act of violence. It belittles the transitioning process, belittles the assertion of gender and identity a trans person – in this case a trans woman – experiences. It perpetuates the stereotype that trans women are merely men with make-up.

This is also the case with casting a man to play a trans woman. Kathir is a great actor. We’ve seen that with his performance in Vikram Vedha, and in Pariyerum Perumal. But as far as one knows, Kathir does not identify as a trans woman. But there are dozens of actors – trans women actors – who would have done justice to the role. Over and over again, we see the result of this thoughtless casting of men as trans women: it results in actual, real-life, violence on trans bodies. Given Tamil cinema, and Tamil society’s understanding of transgender issues and identities and given the progressive acts (not recent) of the government, it’s worrying that filmmakers will continue to be blase about this.

I also wonder, did Kathir have anything to say about his role and his casting? We saw one of the better depictions of violence that gender non-conforming persons and trans persons face in the film Pariyerum Perumal. Pariyan’s father doesn’t declare themselves as trans, does not assert any one gender identity. But is perceived in various ways by the others. Their femininity is appreciated as a dancer, but is ridiculed, harassed by dominant caste cis-men in other contexts and settings. They are taunted: “Pottai”.

That same taunt, that same violence is used in Sigai. This time, by a cis woman.

Coming as this does in a film where sex workers and their associates and agents are portrayed with the deepest sympathy and understanding, it makes the violence all the more hurtful.

*****

The Sigai review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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