Gangubai Kathiawadi is an upcoming biographical crime movie that is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and the trailer for it has just dropped. The trailer shows a trans character that is played by Vijay Raaz, a cis man.
The trailer, styled glamorously like every other Bhansali movie. And shows a trans perspective at play. The trans person in the trailer is named Razia and her place in the society appears to be one of power where she holds a lot influence over the society around her. But even with this power her trans identity is disgusting for the members of this society. This is especially highlighted in the way Gangubai reacts to Razia’s name while drunk, telling others that she feels disgust and pukish every time she hears of Razia. This scene especially shows the power dynamics in the society that Razia is placed in, powerful but yet an “Other”, an “Disgusting Outsider”. Razia is an outcast within the so-called “social outcasts” , the sex workers. It is pretty obvious even through the trailer that trans people are placed in the lowest rung in this hierarchy. Even though it portrays the classic trope, it is still the reality of many trans sex workers in the country and around the world.
Razia’s role also doesn’t employ an actual trans person, instead it puts a cis man in the forefront. Bollywood’s inconsiderate writing of trans people is always coupled with the lack of genuine trans representation, wherein they don’t hire trans people for trans roles. Most of the casting always comes up with the fact that there are no quality trans actors that could’ve done the role justice. Sarcastically all the star kids genetically inherit acting skills and are hired flop after flop. All of this while transwomen actresses like Bonita Singh Rajpurohit, Shivali Chhetri and Kalki Subramaniam are struggling in the movie industry and can hardly find a role.
But the issue is that even in hiring Trans actors the issue of other inter-sectional identities come into play . A trans person is only acceptable if they are a “Gentrified” or “sanitised”, i.e., they have the right caste, right social status,, right upbringing, pedigree, social learning, social standing, education and skin colour. These issues are intersectional, bollywood is just waiting for a “Gentrified” version of a high caste trans person with super high education and super well to do parents and fair skin etc. Who is trans per say, but a super high privileged person other wise. This high privilegedness can mask anyone’s transness for the cis het world. This version of a gentrified trans person is the only acceptable casting to fit and thrive in the cis-het gaze to which bollywood caters to. They are basically waiting for someone from a Brahminical family who has a great family, degree, social status and acts on the side. A large team of people are involved in casting and trying to find the right person to play the role but the kind of people they want to be able to market are almost impossible to find. And even if Bollywood is able to find this perfect trans person, they will never come with the trans experience that they are representative of the societal realities. They will never have had lived on the street and shared their experiences with most trans people in this country.
Gangubai Kathiawadi will release and be appreciated for the story and the acting and all of that but it will miss a crucial opportunity of being a big budget commercial movie that could have done things right and given the due representation that trans people deserve in Bollywood.