Taali review: Sushmita Sen tries her best to rescue one-note biographical drama on Shreegauri Sawant
Taali review: Created by Arjun Singgh Baran and Kartk Nishandar, JioCinema's new series Taali sees Sushmita Sen essay trans activist Shreegauri Sawant.
In a scene that arrives late in the new series Taali, a gay NGO worker Navin (Ankur Bhatia) tells trans activist Gauri (Sushmita Sen) that the discrimination he faces is nowhere near what she has to live with, day in and day out. Yet in no way does the show provide a context for what Navin's struggles look like. For Taali, it doesn't matter at all. It is this tepid, unfair comparison of queer existence and their realities, that washes over the sanitized biographical drama that is Taali. (Also read: Taali creators Arjun, Kartk break silence on casting Sushmita Sen instead of a trans actor as Shreegauri Sawant)
Created by Arjun Singgh Baran and Kartk D Nishandar, and directed by Ravi Jadhav, Taali revolves around the life of transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant. The six-episode long series rests itself squarely on the shoulders of actor Sushmita Sen, who plays Sawant with expected grace and radiance. Yet, despite her noble efforts, Taali struggles to rise above its formulaic template of a biographical drama. Written by Kshitij Patwardhan, Taali is somehow stuck in constantly viewing its subject from a narrow, formally manipulative lens.
We follow Gauri through flashbacks as she presents her linear recollection in the form of a Ted-talk inspired, chapter wise memorabilia for an interview to a prototype white journalist named Amanda (Maya Rechal Mcmanus). She tells how she was Ganesh first, an effeminate schoolboy (played by Krutika Rao) bullied for saying that when she grows up she wants to become a mother. Ganesh's rigid, conservative police-inspector father (Nandu Madhav) even takes her to a sex clinic to prescribe hormonal pills. The decision to run away from home becomes the only way out for her after a point.
There is a heavy-handedness with which these earlier scenes are directed- as if the details are integrated and presented through a check-list of sorts. 4 hours to go for the historic decision, we are also told. Before even presenting the subject and her concerns, it is this announcement that is underlined and fed to viewers at the very first episode. (The countdown is entirely forgotten after this, just like the interview). When will filmmakers stop force-feeding viewers with information and acknowledge their ability to fill in the gaps?
What doesn't work
It doesn't help when Sushmita Sen steps in as teenage Ganesh, the scenes feel planted for the viewers to trace her journey from there onwards. The show is unable to trace the ways in which she finds the courage and determination to go for the sex-change operation. (It is heavily orchestrated into one social gathering where Ganesh is ridiculed by the trans community.) She arrives as Gauri, and the next thing we know- she has turned into a messiah of sorts for the trans community. From rescuing a harassed trans worker to attending a US conference for her work as a teacher in a local school- her journey is traced through a series of milestones. Even for a second, we aren't allowed to enter her inner life- how she gathers herself to face these extraordinary circumstances, what are her normal days like, from where does this unwavering resilience arise?
Sushmita Sen's performance
Sushmita Sen tries her best to inject life into Gauri, yet there's always a worldliness in her screen presence that comes in between. The obvious hindrance is her stiff body language, and the manner in which her response to any situation feels predictable after a given point. She's also saddled with some insipid, rhythmic lines like- "In logo ne meri makeup kiya he, shaam tak mein inka packup karti hoon!" There's only so much one can do to salvage these dialogues. It's a showy, one-note performance devoid of inquisitiveness and surprise.
Taali expectedly circles back to the historic decision of the Indian Supreme Court that transgender individuals are a Third Gender. The rousing denouement arrives agreeably, but without really allowing any room for dialogue. Even after seven episodes, Gauri somehow stands a good distance away. This is a show that only wants to celebrate her, not understand her. So invested is Taali in presenting an overall, objective figure of inspiration that it forgets how Gauri is also a living, breathing entity- wholly deserving of a rich, subjective inner life.