What: Daayraa (1996)
Direction: Amol Palekar
Plot: A love story between a transvestite dancer and a woman who has been gang-raped and now dresses like a man. The film challenges gender roles and traditional ideas of love through witty and moving performances.
The love story between an out-of-work transvestite dancer and a woman who has been kidnapped, raped and now dresses like a man? Even today, this radical idea would send filmmakers scurrying out of the door. Incredibly, Amol Palekar made Daayraa 19 years ago.
The film won a National Award and made it to Time magazine’s 10 best features list — but it never got a theatrical release in India. Happily, it is now out on DVD (in the UK). Based on a story by the award-winning novelist Timeri N Murari (who also wrote the screenplay), Daayraa is a daring and original road movie. The film explores and explodes gender roles and traditional notions of romantic love.
Daayraa is powered by a humane, witty and incredibly moving performance by the late Nirmal Pandey. The actor becomes a character described as ‘bahar se mard, andar se aurat.’ We never find out his name — he calls himself a ‘kudrat ka karishma.’ In a powerful scene, the woman (a terrific Sonali Kulkarni), is crying after her brutal gang rape. In the manner of so many Hindi movie heroines, she wails, “Meri izzat loot li”. To which, he replies, “Ek zara sa chamdi ka tukda izzat kaise ho sakta hai. Bhagwan itna bewakoof nahin ki izzat wahan rakhega. Yahan hoti hai izzat — mastak mein.”
This scene alone makes the film worth watching. Daayraa also has terrific music by Anand-Milind. However, you will have to get past some clumsy direction, terrible background music and glaring lapses in continuity. The ending is bizarre, but I think Palekar meant for us to look at the bigger picture — so in the last scene, when she says to him that she loves him, no matter what he is, it becomes a timeless lesson in the art of celebrating differences. After all, all of us are, in some sense and to some degree, a ‘kudrat ka karishma’.