Remember that time when Bollywood decided to
adapt copy 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs into an Akshay Kumar and Preity Zinta starrer, Sangharsh? Unfortunately, I do.
I’m not even going to address Akshay, who’s supposed to be Hannibal Lecter, and Preity Zinta’s (Clarice) love story. That’s a topic for another day.
For a long period of time, I had a misconception that Sangharsh was an original film. You’d be surprised to know that when the filmmakers were accused of stealing (rightfully so) the plot from Jonathan Demme’s magnum opus, The Silence of the Lambs, they had the audacity to deny it. According to them, their movie was based on a “real case” in India.
Yeah, we believe you, guys who copied A Star is Born and Taxi Driver. We really do.
Ashutosh Rana’s horrifying portrayal of a transgender in Sangharsh
Okay, it’s time to address the elephant in the room.
Ashutosh Rana’s screeching transgender has haunted our collective childhoods. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still haunting, but for a totally different reason.
Representation of transgenders in Bollywood hasn’t always been “right,” for lack of a better word. Ashutosh Rana’s Lajja Shankar Pandey was supposed to be the Indian counterpart of Buffalo Bill. Granted, Buffalo Bill, himself, hasn’t aged well, but Lajja has him beat in this regressive race.
Sangharsh’s Lajja is supposed to be a religious fanatic. Naturally, Bollywood interpreted this as him being a bhakt of Kali Maa. Can you really blame Temple of the Doom when our own countrymen are a bunch of slackers?
So, just like Mola Ram, Lajja kidnaps children and sacrifices them to appease Kali Maa. Basically, Indians copying Americans’ idea of an Indian villain. Original work, amirite?
As a result of this performance, Ashutosh Rana won praises and various accolades. I am personally an admirer of his work, but I feel we should not highlight Lajja whenever we mention Rana.
Deep-rooted transphobia in Bollywood
I’m not revealing anything new by stating that the representation of the LGBT community in Bollywood is problematic.
We either see trans characters as screeching, vile, brothel-owning villain à la Ashutosh Rana in Sangharsh, Sadashiv Amrapurkar in Sadak or Mahesh Manjrekar in Rajjo OR a bumbling, hitting-on-straight-men-only doofus à la Suresh Menon in Partner or Bobby Darling’s entire filmography. There is a problem, for sure.
A shift in narrative
This Pride Month 2020, I would like to get away from the negatives for a while and highlight the positive representation of transgenders in Bollywood.
With the advent of OTT platforms and people appreciating indie films more than mainstream movies, we are slowly seeing a shift in the narrative. Kubra Sait in Sacred Games and Vijay Sethupathi in Super Deluxe are the best examples of representation of transgenders in Bollywood done right.
Fun fact, Sacred Games’ (novel) writer, Vikram Chandra is Sangharsh’s director, Tanuja Chandra’s brother. Two siblings, who created their respective artwork during the same time period, ended up treating their trans characters differently. Fascinating, right?
Coming back to representation of transgenders in Bollywood, what really warmed my heart was seeing, Mairembam Ronaldo Singh, an actual transgender, helming a trans role in Paatal Lok. No doubt, we have come a long way. And still have a long way to go.
Recently, I saw the poster of Laxmmi Bomb that stars Akshay Kumar as a transgender. It may be cool to see an A-list actor as a trans person on the poster of a mainstream movie, but knowing Akshay, he may just have done this for the novelty of it.
Or, here’s a thought, just like all the white saviour movies in the west, we can combine all of Akshay Kumar’s ‘social issues movies’ and call it “Cis-Male Saviour Universe.”
Now, that is a novel idea, right, Akshay?