19 May 2008

In search of dignity

The portrayal of transgenders on the Tamil screen has been insensitive, but this is set to change, says Lakshmy Venkiteswaran.

Megaserials such as Kolangal and Arase on Sun TV have characters that depict transgenders in powerful roles

The society in which we live treats us with nothing but contempt and ridicule," says Rose, a transgender in Chennai who is famous for her talk-show, Ippadikku Rose on Vijay TV. See IBN-CNN video report on Rose below.

This is evident from the insensitive portrayal of transgenders in Tamil films, which more often than not associate aravanis with sexual innuendos and double entendres. Films such as Jayam (2003), Thullatha Manamum Thullum (1999), Eeraman Rojave (1983) and Thiruda Thirudi (2003) have used aravanis for comic relief - making fun of their mannerisms and dress.

This is a far cry from Hilary Swank's Oscar winning performance as the protagonist in Boys Don't Cry, which is based on the life of Brandon Teena, a young transman who was raped and murdered in 1993 by his male friends after they found out about his sexuality.

"Indian comedians lack the creativity needed to come up with fresh comedy. As human beings, we lack empathy and that reflects in the comedy tracks featuring transgenders," says Rose.

However, this is set to change. Her talk show has not only received rave reviews but also changed the stereotypical image of a transgender.

"The public is, for the first time, seeing a transgender being articulate, sociable, intelligent and beautiful. My show has paved the way for transgenders to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve."

Rose, who plans to make a film that portrays transgenders in a different light, says that lack of acceptance by the society is not limited to India. "People should realise that we are the way we are not to make anyone laugh," she says.

Megaserials such as Kolangal and Arase on Sun TV have characters that depict transgenders in powerful roles. In Arase, Bubloo plays the transgender Ganga who is pursued by police.

In one episode, she is arrested and thrown into cell full of males where she is harassed.

7 "I love her dialogue in this episode. It's a reflection of the problems that we face everyday.

Access to public toilets, for instance, is a serious problem. The government needs to formulate special plans to help us cope with society," says June, a transgender in Chennai.

In the Tamil film Appu (2000), the villain is a transgender, Maharani, a power-hungry pimp who eliminates anyone she perceives as a threat.

"Ganga and Maharani are negative characters but you cannot generalise this," adds June.

"There are good and bad people everywhere and transgenders are no different from the rest!" Navarasa, directed by Santosh Sivan, is one of the few films that show the life of aravanis.

Told through the eyes of young Swetha, who is shocked been discovering that her beloved uncle is a woman in a man's body, the film captures the annual Koothandavar festival in Koovagam. Commercially, Navarasa was a nonstarter but the film won much critical acclaim and also the National Award (2005) for the Best Regional Movie.

"If Navarasa had commercial elements such as a dream sequence with the lead pair gyrating to peppy beats, it may have garnered different response. Very few, even among the literate, appreciate meaningful cinema such as Navarasa. The times are changing and awareness has increased about the transgender community, but more needs to be done in terms of policies and laws," says Ameer, the director of the film Paruthiveeran.

Debutant director Kadhir, of the soon-to-be released Tamil film Thenavattu, says his movie will set the benchmark for portrayal of aravanis in Tamil cinema. "We even feed a stray dog but we wouldn't want to help these people. They resort to begging and prostitution because of lack of employment. My film throws a differ ent light on this community. We need to learn to empathise and also change our attitude towards aravanis," he says.

Legislative concerns Homosexual relations are still a crime in India under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which dates back to 1860 The vague nature of the legislation has resulted in it being used against a wide range sexual behaviour such as oral sex (heterosexual and homosexual), sodomy, and bestiality The punishment ranges from 10 years to life imprisonment No major Indian political party has raised endorsed gay rights in their party mani festo or platform. However, a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Brinda Karat, did in 2003 write an open letter to the then minister for law and justice, Arun Jaitley, demanding a repeal of Section 377.

Published on the New Indian Express (Chennai edition of the 18 may 2008) by lakshmy@epmltd.com


1 comment:

  1. hi this is james from chennai if you are a tg want to grow up in life call me right now am from chennai i am a physiotherapist i ll help you in all your needs trans womens call me 09884637871


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