Why members of India's first transgender band are happy to sing

Jan 10, 2016, 05:36 IST | Aastha Atray Banan

India gets its first transgender band. With six songs and six videos in six months, you are going to see a lot of them

"I think I can dream of doing anything now," says Komal Jagtap, one of six members of India’s first transgender band, the 6-Pack Band, launched by YFilms on January 6. We meet the team — Asha Jagtap, Bhavika Patil, Chandni Suvarnakar, Fida Khan, and Komal Jagtap at Yashraj Studios’s Andheri office — where, as they drink hot coffee, they talk about their newfound stardom. Their first song and video, which is on the Yfilms YouTube channel, has garnered more than a million views in 24 hours. It’s a cover of Pharrel Williams’ Happy, with a desi twist. "My brother, who disowned me, and said, ‘chhee, hijra hai!', called me yesterday, ‘kahan hai, when are you coming home?’" says Komal. "This," she adds, "has never happened before."
A million hits on YouTube does change many things.

Also read: Indian transgender band releases debut single

Curated by Shameer Tandon, who has also directed the music, and conceived and produced by head of YFilms, Asish Patil, the 6-Pack Band will do six songs, six videos over a period of six months. Though the first song is a cover, the rest will be original. The second one will release on February 6 and feature Sonu Nigam.

Putting the band together, however, was no easy task. "We put people on the field in places like Mankhurd, Ulhasnagar, where we knew transgenders live," says Tandon. "Our teams went up to them and asked, ‘do you know how to sing?’ It was hard for them to take us seriously. And then we had many roadblocks. When we organised an audition at an Andheri building, the residents didn’t let them in. The candidates asked: ‘why did you call us here? We don’t want to be humiliated’. But, our intentions were true and that got through to them." What amused him was that many men turned up, dressed up as transgenders. "Because they wanted to be part of the band. But, by then, we knew how to differentiate," he laughs.

Four from the band — Asha, Komal, Chandni and Ravina — hail from Ulhasnagar; Ravina is their guru. They usually sing and give blessings to newborns and newly weds. Fida, who worked with Humsafar for a while, also does the same and now is seeing her role as the English singer in the band as her new profession. Bhavika, from Virar, used to work as a staff nurse at a private hospital, but was ridiculed out of her job.

As they sit around the table, they can’t but gasp at this new stardom. "The comments on the video are mostly positive, but of course there are some mean ones," says Patil, "but we didn’t even have to take note of that, as other viewers itself chided the people who were being derogatory." Bhavika laughs, "I am getting tired of scrolling my WhatsApp — there are so many messages, what to answer? I had a mini fight yesterday on Facebook, when I put my video. Someone said ‘you can never have the grace of a girl’. Before I could answer, someone else told him off and said, ‘if it had to be a girl, they would have made a band of girls na!’"

Watch video: Sonu Nigam launches first transgender '6 Pack Band'

"It’s so strange when people are mean to us. If I ask you for money, don’t give it, but don’t tell me, why don’t you work instead of begging? Because I’ll turn around and ask ‘are you going to give me work? Give and I will do it’," says Bhavika passionately.

Right now they are prepping for their next release and all the fame that’s bound to find them. The makers are hoping Pharell will tweet it, much like famous singer Laura Jane Grace who tweeted it praising the girls. As Fida puts it, in the form of a sher (couplet), "Jab tak dikhe na the, koi mol na tha; aapne khareed kar unmol kar diya."

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