Why Is Bollywood's Portrayal Of The Transgender Community Problematic?
With almost 1.2 billion Indian watchers, Bollywood has always been the trendsetter of social movements and a large platform for artistic expression. It has the potential to bring some issues to light and spread awareness amongst the society in one go. On the occasion of trans visibility day, let us analyze the impact of some of the onscreen “trans representation” that Bollywood has given us.
The use of cis actors to play trans roles
When the aim of media changes from capitalizing on the viewers rather than artistic expressions, we get TV series like “Patni Patni Aur Panga”. With Adah Sharma starring as Shivani Bhatnagar in the MX Player’s comedy drama, who is married to a man, we see a typical newlywed couple. Things change when he realizes that the person who he has married is a transwoman. This leads to him filing for divorce under fraud.
The most off-putting thing is that Bollywood has always cast cis people to play the role of a trans person. We might question how exactly can they capture the feelings of the trans community when they are shielded under the umbrella of cis-heternormativity. With movies like “Laxmii ” and now “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui”, we are left to wonder what exactly are the intentions of the filmmakers.
In the film “Laxmii,” Akshay Kumar plays the role of a man possessed by a female ghost and starts acting “effeminate.” Not only does this film perpetuate gender stereotypes but reinstates the idea that transwomen are basically men dressed in feminine clothes, who act effeminate. The real horror is how they portray transsexuality as something of a comedy. I can’t even begin to explain how problematic the symbolism of a trans woman as an “evil ghost” terrorizing innocent people is.
All that's wrong with Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui
Similarly, with the release of the trailer of “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui,” we see another Bollywood movie try its hand at spreading awareness about the trans community. Vaani Kapoor, a Zumba instructor is romantically involved with Ayushmann Khurana, a weightlifter targeting national competitions. The first thing that irked me off is that the male lead hypersexualizes his love interest. Vaani Kapoor is shown to be the epitome of female beauty which makes him fall in love with her. However, when he comes to know that his partner is a transwoman, he is enraged. He accuses her of defrauding him. We also see how Ayushmann tells his friend how he had sex the same way the others do, cementing the idea that penetrative sex is the only “real sex”.
Turning trans identity into a comedy
One of the common features of all these films is that they have no respect for the trans community. On one hand, they claim to raise awareness yet all they do is create a joke out of their identity. As soon as they come to know about their partner’s identity, they start misgendering them even though they had no problem using she/her pronouns for their partners before.
Another problematic aspect is that thinking not coming out is essentially “tricking” them, “lying” to them, or “cheating” them. Why are we basing someone’s identity on what they appear to others? Shivani would be a woman as much as the next ciswoman. And so will be Maanvi. Not disclosing their former gender is not cheating someone at all. If you fall in love with a person why does it matter what gender identity they associate themselves with?
In “Patni Patni Aur Panga” we see the actor having a nightmare of how his wife is peeing beside him just like a cisman does. Dare I say that the humor of Bollywood movies has reached rock bottom.
These movies perpetuate the idea that transwomen are not women but men who have changed their sex. We need movies that don’t violently propagate transphobia in front of society and pass it off as spreading awareness. We need movies that don’t treat trans identity as a secret to be disclosed.
Cover Graphic: Tanvi Mohanty & Avni Gupta