From stereotypical characters on screen, the portrayal of transgender characters has witnessed a sea-change. Here’s a look
As the entertainment space aims at inclusivity, transgenders are no more playing the villainous brothel-keeper or that funny friend who dresses up weirdly for comic relief. Increasingly, they have become significant part of stories, at times taking a central role — be it Sushmita Sen in transgender activist Gauri Sawant’s role in the biopic Taali or Akshay Kumar headlining Laxmii or Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Haddi.
Deepa Mehta’s documentary I am Sirat, which recently created a buzz at Toronto Film Festival, unravels the inner life of a Delhi-based transgender woman. Do these portrayals on screen herald a change towards a new world that’s inclusive or is it merely lip service in a world where being politically right is significant? We take a look.
The portrayal of transgender identity on screen has sure evolved over the years, barring a few exceptions. It reflects changing societal attitudes and awareness about gender diversity. However, it’s essential to note that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to this question, as the representation of transgenders varies across different productions and time periods.
Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju
“In the past, transgender characters in Indian cinema were often depicted using stereotypes and caricatures, contributing to their stigmatisation and marginalisation. They were frequently portrayed as comedians or villains,” says actor Rajesh Kumar, who has been part of the recent release Haddi. But in recent years, there has been a noticeable shift towards more realistic portrayals. “Filmmakers and series’ creators have started to explore the lives, struggles and aspirations of transgenders with greater depth and sensitivity. This shift has helped in humanising them and raising awareness about their issues,” he adds.
Although struggles of the transgender community are coloured in a humorous hue, the representation is not uniform. “It’s crucial to recognise that transgenders are not a monolithic group and that their experiences intersect with other aspects of identity, such as caste, class, religion, and regional background. Thus, some productions may provide more nuanced and authentic portrayals than others,” says actress Dhartti Bhatt.
The representation of transgender identity in Indian cinema and web series has indeed progressed, with certain productions taking meaningful steps to foster understanding and inclusivity. “Nonetheless, complexities persist and the degree of advancement fluctuates across different works. The essential task ahead involves advocating for more genuine and diverse portrayals, all the while remaining aware of the risk of shallow depictions, driven solely by political correctness,” Dhartti adds.
Now, there are more empathetic depictions — be it Kubbra Sait as Kuckoo in Sacred Games or Vaani Kapoor as a transgender Zumba trainer, Maanvi Brar, in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. Their respective love stories talk of inclusion. However, the recent release Haddi takes a U-turn towards making them a distinctive community, “Pata hai log humse kyon darte hain, hamara aashirwad bahut shaktishali hota hai aur hamara shrap bahut bhayavay. Aur us se bhi bhayanak jaante ho kya hota hai — hamara badla,” says Nawazuddin as Harika, in Haddi. Earlier, in Laxmii, Akshay Kumar’s transgender character too perpetuated more stereotypes.
On the flip side, Sushmita Sen in Taali and Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, who plays Meher in the second season of the Indian web series Made In Heaven, not only bring to screen realistic characters, but also raise awareness about the community and its struggles. Sirat, whose life story Deepa Mehta highlights in I am Sirat, hopes that the documentary will help her mother accept her as a proud transgender woman.
“Advocacy, legal changes, and international influences also play a role. The challenge lies in balancing entertainment with education and striving for continuous improvement in representation,” says actress Anupama Solanki.
Courtesy : The Tribune
Note: This news piece was originally published in thetribune.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right