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Shunned by society,transgenders often look for acceptability and solace in the entertainment industry

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza |
July 5, 2012 4:36:40 am

Shunned by society,transgenders often look for acceptability and solace in the entertainment industry

I have worked with filmmakers and stars that most actors can only dream of working with,right from Shyam Benegal in Welcome to Sajjanpur,Akshay Kumar and Prabhudheva in Rowdy Rathore. My next big film is Aamir Khan-starrer Talaash,” says Annu,as she toys with the mobile phone in her hand. With experience of over eight years in the industry,Annu is comfortable facing the camera. Yet,her pride in her filmography is accompanied with the awareness that she is needed only for bit roles. “My screen time does not matter; it makes a huge difference that films and television shows provide me with more than a means of livelihood — they accept me with dignity.” A transgender,Annu is a junior artiste and model coordinator in Mumbai’s entertainment industry.

The entertainment industry is home to several transgenders and transsexuals (the latter prefer a sex change so they can belong to the gender they identify with). Before she became famous as a transgender activist-celebrity,Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi was also a model coordinator. Having started out as a dance instructor during her college days in 1995,she became a coordinator for background dancers upon a friend’s suggestion. Once Pankaj Sharma,Bobby Darling is a known face in film and television industries. An artiste and professor at National Institute of Design,Ahmedabad,Pradipta Ray’s performance on an item number for Gangs of Wasseypur’s second installment is famous even before the song’s release. Then there are others — Ananya Nikkiey Chawla is a successful model and Gazal Dhaliwal,a budding lyricist and dubbing artiste. In Chennai,Rose Venkatesan is a success story with a TV and radio show to her credit and Angel Glady has worked as an assistant director on several TV shows.

Tripathi considers herself lucky for the good experiences while working in the industry,but she asserts that people’s attitude towards trans people was different two decades ago. A make-up artiste for 15 years,Preeti (name changed on request) seconds Tripathi. “I was adept at my work,but suffered bias and humiliation for three years before I could get my first break. Crew members would laugh at me and talk in innuendos. Some of them would even ask for sexual favours in return,” she explains. Bobby Darling too,has spoken about the ridicule she earlier faced at the hands of film directors,including Makrand Deshpande,while auditioning.

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However,the desire to be accepted often demands hard work,which Annu and Preeti believe,eventually wins people over. “In the end,strapped for time,the film industry only weighs the value of your work. If you prove to be useful and efficient,you are in it for the long haul,” claims Annu,who has helped several “chelas” and other boys and girls from her neighbourhood get a job in the entertainment industry. “The happiest time of my life was while shooting for Talaash — Aamir Khan would walk up to me every day for a chat,treating me like a friend,” she adds.

However,Venkatesan believes that acceptability is also a byproduct of education. A masters of science in biomedical engineering from Louisiana University,US,Venkatesan had successful talk shows — Ippadikku Rose on Vijay TV and Rosedan Pesungal on Big FM,which were conceptualised by her. “After being disowned by my family,all I had was my education to fall back on for a livelihood,” recounts the 33-year-old.

The advent of internet,exposure to knowledge and international cultures can also be attributed for the change. “Till some years ago,ours was considered a community of untouchables,” Tripathi explains,pointing out that for a long time in Indian cinema,filmmakers preferred men in drags to play the role of transgenders.

On that front,little has changed even today. Members of the entertainment industry may treat transgenders as equals in person,but on screen,they are relegated to playing beggars,prostitutes or dancers. Glady believes that filmmakers and actors perhaps mean well,but those who are not from the LGBT community (Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual and Transgender) rarely understand our complexities. Recently,actor Vivek played a transgender in the Tamil film Murattu Kaalai in order to create awareness,but the portrayal was almost insulting and over-the-top,” says the 26-year-old,who believes that playing down sexuality in body language will help transgenders being accepted.

Tripathi agrees that often transgenders are a tool to trigger laughter. “But that is slowly changing. The Marathi film Aamhi Ka Tisre about transgenders won the Special Jury award at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and is now readying to travel the festival circuit,” she points out. “However,it is also important that,as in this movie,filmmakers choose transgenders to play these parts as opposed to men in drags — it will help sensitise audience towards us and also ensure livelihood for many other less privileged members of our community.”

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