On Sunday, it’s more than just an acting workshop for the queer community that’s taking place at a swanky hotel’s ground level in New Delhi. Faraz Arif Ansari, a queer director who is behind TRANSaction 2.0 in collaboration with the Keshav Suri Foundation, sounds a tad dispirited as he reveals his struggle to cast a transgender lead for his film.
“I have been looking for a year, but as luck would have it, there are no trans-actors in the country. The work for Sabr is done, I have great actors on board, right from Shweta Tripathi to Swara Bhaskar, but I don’t have a lead actor,” he says.
Meanwhile, at this workshop, where youngsters from the underprivileged background were also participating, a 12-year-old girl shouts ‘confused’ and repeats it at a high pitch as she’s asked to speak louder, her expression changing to dazed. Just then, someone shouts ‘anger’, teary-eyed. After this, all participants come together in a circle and express themselves without inhibition.
After their own theatrical warm-up, two participants stand amidst the circle and enact a scene from Ansari’s film, Sisak, which is India’s first silent LGBTQ film.
An unimpresssed Ansari says: “Cut it!” and soon a discussion on the nuances of acting ensues.
Speaking about his journey, he says, “Being a queer filmmaker is a challenge and it’s difficult to find others like yourself. After Sisak, I wished to make a feature film about a transwoman. While travelling to festivals through Sisak, I realised that we don’t practice inclusivity, unity and diversity, something the country is otherwise known for.”
The queer community, he believes, hasn’t had a chance at expressing themselves. They are “discarded” as he puts it, “I want to fight for them; the minority is constantly pushed to the wall.”
TRANSaction 2.0 is more than a search for his lead actor. It’s about giving the community a platform not only to perform but to explore themselves too. An emotional Ansari says, “I am creating a family of people who are seeking love. After all, what is greater than sharing a moment of love with each other in a world that is filled with hate?”
Avantika, a transgender participant at the workshop, is enjoying the challenge of “laughing and crying, sometimes all at once”. But the biggest relief is that theatre allows her to “simply be just as she is”. She says, “It wasn’t a cakewalk when it came to acceptance. Although my mother was supportive, my father wasn’t. It had turned me into a deviant; every time I spoke to him, I would clap my hands to get my point across and put forth that I was never going to change.”
Manu, a gay and activist with the Humsafar Trust, remarks, “Being a queer person, you don’t get opportunities to explore avenues due to the stigma.” A theatre enthusiast, he claims, “I take up whatever chances I get, but I am not offered roles that are recognisable. However, I am not giving up easily.”
His commitment is impressive, but what keeps him going? He replies, “To me, theatre is a medium. I want to tell people that we are as normal as others, as equipped as others. At workplaces, most people don’t talk about their gender because their bread and butter is dependent on it.”
Manu explains, “Theatre is a two-way street for me. Firstly, it’s about who I am. I have been acting my entire life because I cannot come out and talk about who I really am when I feel like a girl inside a man’s body. Theatre allows me to bring the girl out in the open without any fear.”