Mx Player has come up with a new web-series titled ‘Pati Patni aur Panga‘ (PPP), directed by Abir Sengupta, and starring Adah Sharma as a transgender woman, Shivani. The trailer is out and this is what we know.
The story revolves around a 28-years old man, Romanchak and a woman, Shivani who love each other. Romanchak, a failing property dealer rents out a room in his house to Shivani who is finding difficult to rent a flat in Mumbai as she is a single-woman. Romanchak’s mother proposes that they marry. In no time they are a happily married couple. Now, the twist. Romanchak finally realizes that Shivani is a transgender woman who underwent gender-affirming surgery, though she had told him that before marriage, but he thought she is joking. She also changed her given name Shiv to her chosen and legal name Shivani and left everything and everyone in Indore to start a new life in Mumbai.
All hell breaks loose. Suddenly, all the love that the boy had for Shivani vanishes into thin air and he screams at the top of his lungs, “Ek launde se shadi huyi hai” (I’ve married a man). Romanchak files for divorce on the ground that Shivani has done fraud with her by not revealing before their marriage that she is a transgender woman.
The web-series’ trailer has drawn severe criticism from the trans community and allies, based on its inaccurate and insensitive portrayal of the transgender woman’s character. Afreen Zeb writes, “This is one of the most atrocious pieces of shit to ever be written by Indian TV producers. And it was perhaps a movie like Laxmi Bomb that gave way to this atrocity.”
The poor understanding of writer-director and the actor can be understood from the fact that they could not get even the basics right. The trailer shows Shivani, a post-op transwoman as standing and peeing which is technically incorrect. Also, the poor understanding and preparation by Adah Sharma for this “brave role” as she calls it can be gauged from the fact that she has posted on social media that she is “playing a man” in this series. Transgender women whether operated or not are still women. In fact, the trailer itself shows Shivani saying, “Pehle main ladka that” (I used to be a man), furthering the misconception on trans issues. In the series, Shubham Matta plays the role of Shiv depicting the role of Shivani pre-transition.
Never judge a book by its cover. Or first, watch and then decide is what the defenders would say. So, I watched this six-episode web series and went through trauma but I had to endure this to collect more evidence to defend the title of this article.
The series opens with a scene where apparently a transgender woman approaches Romanchak for a Paying Guest facility. This transwoman’s character is shown as touching Romanchak inappropriately. The series itself begins with dialogues like these, “Poore samaj mein gand phaila rakhi hai” (Too much ‘dirt’ thrown all over society), “Yahi apradh baar baar karte ho, aadmi ho aura admi se pyar karte ho” (This is the ‘crime’ you keep doing. You’re a man and you fall in love with a man). In another scene a few minutes later, Romanchak says this, “Dengue ki tarah phailte jaa rahi hai yeh bimari. Achchhe khaase ladke ladki bante jaa rahe hai” (This illness is spereading like dengue. Good men are becoming women).
The series shows that Romanchak and his mother are extremely homophobic and transphobic. And to show that this comedy web-series uses transphobic and homophobic slurs and dialogues. The series is full of C-grade jokes that seem to be taken from Whatsapp forwards. In addition to transphobia, misogyny, patriarchy and fetish with trans bodies are on full display. The role of Romanchak’s mother will remind you of equally horrendous ‘Kantaben’ from Kal Ho Na Ho.
Near the end in the last episode, Abir Sengupta suddenly tries to portray the transphobic mother-son duo in rainbow lights. But fails miserably at that. In fact, a scene, in the end, summarizes what exactly is wrong with this series – Romanchak, who is now shown as a Trans-ally, assumes that a person with feminine behaviour is a trans woman, decides that they will be more comfortable in a girl’s PG, takes them to a girls’ PG and introduces them to the other girls as a man with a woman’s soul. The makers think that they know about the lives of trans people, assume things, make a shitty transphobic web-series to highlight the issue of transphobia and then expect the trans community to give them warm hugs.
It should be also noted that a few weeks back another Transphobic disaster had been dropped on us— Laxmii Bomb, a horror film, starring Akshay Kumar. While Laxmi Bomb made the transgender character appear scary for a ‘horror effect’, PPP uses trans character for comic relief.
They both end up making a mockery of trans people and adding more misery to the lives of the transgender persons who are already highly marginalised. In India, many transpersons are killed every year for just being themselves.
The latest trick in the book of film writers for a masala film is to add a trans character. It isn’t only ‘sexy’ for them, you can also pass the stuff off as ‘progressive’. So what if it involves making fun of trans people? It gets you buzz and moolah, right? The same is done when writing roles about persons with disability or persons with mental illness.
Globally, there has been a demand that Trans characters be played by Trans persons only. Some readers may be aware of the Scarlett Johansson fiasco when signed up to play the role of a Trans man, while numerous trans actors in Hollywood await a role. Just a few days back, Elliot Page, the Juno star, had announced that they identify as a transgender person. In India, there is no famous trans actor unlike in the west. Even when Trans persons are cast their roles are a caricature and only further transphobia. Even if we do not find a suitable and talented person to play a trans person’s character, the least that can be done is to involve trans people in the process of writing.
Is it really that difficult to find trans actors to play trans roles? Faraz Arif Ansari, who has written Sisak and Sheer Qorma, both films have LGBT characters, shines some light on this:
“Finding trans actors isn’t difficult at all. Finding trans actors that need specific characters traits is usually where it has been a challenge for me personally because my character is her mid 50’s and must be/look Parsi. Finding young trans actors, which is usually the case for most shouldn’t be a problem at all if one partner with members of the LGBTQIA community and help them in the process. The problem is that people don’t even try to cast trans actors, they usually want cishet actors. It is imperative to try at least and cast a trans actor to play a trans character. But given how the representation has been on screen, everyone usually finds the easy way out. The easy way isn’t the best way and we need to keep reminding everyone of it. Inclusion is a process. Representation is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. One has to be at it and keep trying with dogged determination.
After having tried, if one fails to find a trans actor, is running out of options and has to cast an actor who isn’t trans / is cishet then one must get queer & trans representation behind the camera to make sure that sexuality and gender identities are not being reduced to a mockery, is being handled with sensitivity, responsibly and with great care. There has been a great deal of damage done to queer communities by demeaning and regressive representations. We do not deserve that. No one deserves that.”
Even when cisgender people are writing about trans characters, they need to unlearn and learn a lot. Sahar Quaze, the writer of 377 Ab Normal, spells it out: “The focus of the makers is on the glamour quotient; hence stories end up being chick-flicks, superficial love stories, which lack soul. As the ‘trans-world’ has always been hidden from the ‘cis-world’, their world should be portrayed in the way it actually is; a world that is grim, lacks hope, happiness and acceptance. Trans Stories should be told with aspiration and character struggle should come across. It’s just not romance that a person of trans-identity is seeking. More than romance, a trans boy/girl needs to affirm an identity of their own and yes love follows later in the journey.”
While previously most trans roles were played by cis-het men, there is a trend to now cast cis-het women. While some of them may prepare well, like in case of Konkona Sen Sharma in Monsoon Date or Kubra Sait in Sacred Games, it still doesn’t do justice or address the larger issue of representation.
An actor’s preparation is no substitute for the lived experience.
The film raises a very crucial issue though of disclosure pre-marriage about one’s gender identity. This is a controversial issue with no clear answer. It, of course, depends on the trust and communication between the couple. The same would also apply if a person is intersex. More importantly, the issue is relevant when a gay man marries a woman and then cheats on her or doesn’t fulfil her conjugal rights.
Monsoon date a short-film written by Transgender woman Ghazal Daliwal, directed by Tanuja Chandra and starring Konkona Sen Sharma and Priyanshu Painyuli narrates the story of a trans woman who has been dating a cis-het man. The trans character played by Konkona during a monsoon date decides to disclose the past with her boyfriend. This 20-minutes film though not most ideal, is still a relief over films like Laxmii Bomb and the six-episode series of PPP.
Varnesvari Rilde, a transperson themself shares why some trans women decide not to disclose their identity or not to date even, “I am a transgender person and to be fair that is one of the reasons why I don’t wish to be with a man, despite being attracted towards them. Most men have a tendency to be extreme towards Transwomen, whether they knew of the woman’s transition before or not. That is why so many trans people are killed each year due to men thinking that Transwomen somehow deceived those men.”
The story shows how a transwoman is rejected and mentally harassed for not revealing to her future husband that she is a transwoman who has undergone gender-affirming surgery. One wonders if the story would still have this much leverage in our patriarchal society if there was a turn of tables and the wife discovers that her husband is a transman?
Many people undergo surgical procedures before marriage which have a bearing on their fertility. Do people always communicate the same to their prospective spouse?
“This series should be made as a tragedy from the point of view of the girl – how a girl’s life was destroyed after marrying a misogynist, uneducated moron. The makers don’t understand the ABC of the transworld or for that matter even the ABC of basic Humanity,” Says Darab Farooqui, the writer of movies with strong women characters like Dedh Ishqiya.
Sahar Quaze adds, “Just because the girl transformed from Shiv to Shivani, the husband is finding it so hard to accept that he accidentally got married to a transwoman and is full of disgust and simply wants to give her a divorce even though Shivani is a doting wife and a good person. In the promo of the show it’s seen that Shivani aks, “mujhe divorce kyu de rahe ho, aisa maine kya kiya hai?” whereas Romanchak’s lawyer tells him that “It’s a clear case of fraud.”
The series repeatedly harps on the issue that a transwoman cannot conceive. Varnesvari adds their inputs on this, “For those who are saying what about biological kids, first, it is perfectly okay to want to have biological kids, if one can. However, it is not just transgender people who can’t have kids, many cisgender people can’t have kids as well. Second, it is not at all okay to end a relationship with someone on the sole fact that the person can’t have kids. No one on this earth, and I repeat no one on this Earth, has such good genes that they need to be passed down or humanity will cease to exist. Also, you can opt for surrogacy. There are literally so many successful ways to have kids and if a person loves someone and is breaking up with them for the sole reason that they can’t have kids, then you are misogynist.”
As the web-series releases and furthers transphobia, we hope the voices of resistance will reach the people who are planning on such future endeavours.
These are very critical times for the queer community, and the transgender community specifically.
India has just enacted a Transgender Act, despite much opposition by trans community itself. While there is still no legal provision for the marriage of a transgender person, some court rulings have asked to consider a transgender woman as a Hindu bride. The matter of same-sex marriage is in the court and for the first time in history, prison statistics will include data on transgender people. In these times, when OTT web-series heavily influence the discourse among the youth, it is an appeal to writers, filmmakers and actors to include trans people for true inclusion of trans people in the mainstream society.