Activist defends choice of actress in biopic

For transgender activist Gauri Sawant, watching Sushmita Sen bring her story to life on screen with Taali is a big victory for the whole community.

She doesn't want to pay attention to the online murmurs.

Last month, Sushmita posted on Instagram the first look of Taali. Amid positive feedback was online noise surrounding such roles not being given to transgender actors.

The decision also divided opinion among India's transgender community, with some arguing that the role should have gone to one of the many transgender actresses waiting for a big break.

Taali is based on the life of Gauri, a transgender activist from Mumbai who adopted the daughter of a sex worker who died of Aids.

In 2014, Gauri became the first transgender person to petition India's Supreme Court for the right to adopt a child and gained widespread praise for showing a different type of family.

"We were excited when we first heard about Taali because it meant there was a leading and heroic role about a transgender person," budding transgender actress Navya told BBC.

"It was a great win for the community. And this was a role we all understood - it was about someone in our community.

"But in October, when it was announced that the role of Gauri had gone to a cisgender actress, I was very sad. [NON-TRANS]And I wasn't the only one."

The unhappiness spread online.

A netizen tweeted: "Why is a cis straight woman playing a trans character? What year is it? 1995? Get trans actors for trans roles!"

Another tweet read: "I can offer a long list of transgender actors who have done exemplary work. But well, what can one expect from Bollywood?"

Gauri told Hindustan Times she was also involved in the project and "Sushmita is not the only one acting in it". [/NON-TRANS]

"I want to make it clear that there are many transgender actors who will be seen in the project, who were picked after a thorough audition process," she said.

"Most of us from the community wanted to become women and that is why we wear a sari. Now, it is a mark of respect for us that a female actor is playing the role, instead of a male actor, which we had seen happen in the past."

For many years, Gauri has been working for the transgender community and is especially involved in many social activities. She also does important work to support sex workers.

She wondered why netizens started this conversation.

"One should think about how challenging the role would be for a woman with such stature," she said.

'Because the role comes with a lot of taboo with which we live with. She (Sushmita) has shown courage to take it up. And she was my first choice.

"I want to say that people should consider us for other roles too. Like I did an advertisement where I played the role of a mother and people accepted me in that role.

"Why should we be restricted to just the transgender roles?"

Gauri said Sushmita worked with her extensively to get the nuances right. But still not many netizens are happy and they argue the role should have gone to one of the many transgender actors waiting for their big break.

"The issue is there aren't enough diverse, complex roles for transgender people as it is," transgender actress Kalki Subramaniam told BBC.

"The roles we are offered are stereotyped: the sex worker, the background character blessing a wedding, the loud person who curses.

"It is changing in some parts of Indian cinema, like the South Indian film industry. But not Bollywood."

Anjali Ameer, a transgender star who starred in the Tamil hit Peranbu and has been offered to play non-transgender roles in South Indian films, showed support for Sushmita.

"Casting someone as famous as Sushmita Sen is good for the transgender community. It means our stories are becoming mainstream," she said.

"When our stories enter more houses and people can see us as human beings, more roles will follow."

Indo-Asian News Service

"Now, it is a mark of respect for us that a female actor is playing the role, instead of a male actor, which we had seen happen in the past."

- Transgender activist Gauri Sawant


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