Sunday Debate: Should only a trans person play a transgender?

A casting director and a trans model debate whether Vaani Kapoor’s character should have been played by an actual transgender
Vaani Kapoor plays a trans person in the movie Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui
Vaani Kapoor plays a trans person in the movie Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui
Published on Nov 20, 2021 08:25 PM IST
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ByAbhishek Banerjee, Kenny Awomi

“In our society, communities are not confident enough to share their stories”

By Abhishek Banerjee

Abhishek was stubborn about casting someone from the community for Paatal Lok. We took a year to find Mariam, traversed big cities and found her in Manipur thanks to the society there
Abhishek was stubborn about casting someone from the community for Paatal Lok. We took a year to find Mariam, traversed big cities and found her in Manipur thanks to the society there

When Bala released, people asked why a dark-skinned actor wasn’t cast instead of Bhumi Pednekar. But Bollywood is a business and filmmakers have to see that side too.

We don’t come across many applications from the LBTQAI+ community—like for Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017), when we couldn’t find someone who could act well. But casting is about pursuing. I was stubborn about casting someone from the community for Paatal Lok. We took a year to find Mariam, traversed big cities and found her in Manipur thanks to the society there—she has a normal life there, which gave her the confidence to be in front of the camera.

In most societies, trans people don’t have the confidence to be themselves. How do you persuade people living a secret life? And their families? It’s not a professional but a personal matter.

You can question why Bollywood is the way it is, but it’s upto the audience. They aren’t going to theatres to watch Tumbbad, but if it had a big star, they would have. Even Shah Rukh Khan’s Swades was not a hit. Gadar was a bigger hit than Lagaan as its entertainment value was high. Art celebrate karna aata nahi hai. We haven’t reached that point yet. But we now have a deaf superhero in Eternals. We are transitioning into a space where shapes, size or colour isn’t going to matter as long as you can perform.

Abhishek Banerjee, 36, is an actor and casting director known for his roles in Paatal Lok and Rashmi Rocket

“If a trans person is cast in mainstream, others will be inspired to be themselves”

By Kenny Awomi

Kenny questions that if there can be a trans model, designer and make-up artist, then why can’t we have a trans actor?
Kenny questions that if there can be a trans model, designer and make-up artist, then why can’t we have a trans actor?

Most trans representation in Bollywood is by cisgenders, and shown getting pushed around, slapped or playing a prostitute or beggar. Bollywood stereotypes us to show that we don’t belong there.

If there can be a trans model, designer and make-up artist, then why can’t we have a trans actor? It’s as simple as casting a cis woman to play a woman. If a trans person had played the lead in Neerja, it wouldn’t have been as convincing.

There is talk about inclusivity and it’s great that the life of a trans person is being shown, urging the society to be more accepting of us. But is it really acceptance if the community isn’t getting work? Without actual opportunities, the conversation itself is becoming more like a business strategy, with the community only being highlighted during the pride month. Of course, casting a known name is a valid reason as it’s a marketing strategy. But everyone starts from scratch. If people from the community aren’t given the opportunity, how are they supposed to become a known name?

It’s 2021. We should be talking about casting a trans actor as the female lead! Actions speak louder than words. If a trans person is successful and looked upto or cast in a movie, others from the community will be inspired to be themselves.

Kenny Awomi, 28, is a leading transgender model, who appeared on the cover of HT Brunch last month

From HT Brunch, November 21, 2021

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021