The fight for an accurate representation of communities in Indian cinema has been long and harsh. Especially concerning the LGBTQ community. The talk of sexual orientation and gender identity is extremely taboo and is being talked about only recently. Hence, knowledge about the transgender community is extremely limited and is based on what we have seen and have been taught. Personally, growing up in the 2000s, there was absolutely no representation of the community. Due to the lack of interaction around this, I had a completely messed up idea about the community. Whenever I saw a trans woman at a railway crossing or traffic signal, I would assume that they were a man dressed as a woman. Fortunately, as I grew up, this conversation was brought to social media, and it helped me unlearn the ridiculous assumptions I had.
However, before the prominence of social media, cinema was the primary mass audience platform. Sadly, these movies resorted to tropes such as sexual harassment, homosexuality, and transgender misrepresentation in the name of comedy, even in extremely popular movies with a credible cast and crew. Examples of these movies are Masti (2004), Partner (2007), and Kya Kool Hai Hum (2005). And the epitome of transphobia in recent years, Pati, Patni Aur Panga (2020). In this web series, the husband finds out that his wife is a trans woman and starts having weird dreams, to the extent of him dreaming of him and his wife peeing on the road together. This is extremely damaging to minds irrespective of age because there is little to no information passed around about a trans person’s body.
Every time a transgender person was not the butt of jokes, they were portrayed in a negative light as the villains of the story. These include movies like Sadak 2 (2020), Murder (2011), Sangharsh (1999), and Rajjo (2013). For example, in Rajjo, the blossoming romance between the leads, Rajjo and Chandu, is disturbed by Begum, a trans person who runs the brothel Rajjo works at. Although Mahesh Manjrekar gives a stellar performance as Begum, it feeds the already existing fright towards the community. This came out in 2013!
In addition to that, I have heard how several millennials had sleepless nights after watching Ashutosh Rana play a trans woman, an abductor, and murderer in Sangharsh. Again, even though Rana gave a stellar performance, it definitely pushed people back in terms of their perception towards the trans community, probably confirming the myths people believed and passed on to their children.
Also, being a marginalized and “frightening” community, the job prospects for them, especially in the film industry, are completely non-existent. So, even if trans people are roped in for advice on roles, we have actually never seen one on stage. All the roles are given to cis-gendered men and women, even if the role is of a trans person. Priya Babu, the head of the Transgender Resource Centre, in turn, said, “There is a gap between reality and cinema. However, the slip is steeper with transgenders. Movies rarely speak of topics such as jobs, education, and transgender love. Should we resort to begging and prostitution at all times?”
Even though many of the fraternity members have shown regret for such choices, the damage is sadly done. But considering the immense transphobia, we have witnessed over the decades, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
With time, we are realizing our role and rights as an audience. At least till the early 2010s, movies with a sensitive nature always went unnoticed. Reasons for this were probably lack of marketing, non-commercial star cast, or sheer uninterest of the audience. But honestly, I am glad that there was at least some genuine effort in showing a realistic portrayal of the community in that era. Some of these movies are, Daaryaa (1996), Darmian: In Between (1997), Naanu Avanalla Avalu (2015), and Tamanna (1997).
Along with these, the success and critical acclaim of movies with positive portrayals, such as Super Deluxe (2019), Chandigarh Kare Ashiqui (2021), Paava Kadhaigal (2020), and Nagarkirtan (2017), and with a shift to OTT platforms, it seems like we have an upward battle from here. All of these movies have portrayed trans-people as “different”, narrating their journey as the “sore-thumb” of society. However, we await the time trans people play “regular” roles in rom-coms, thrillers, and fantasies. It’s not like we are where we should be, but we are progressing. Hopefully, we can wholeheartedly open our arms to the community and actually see trans people on the big screen soon.
Written by: Samiksha