Freedom to be one’s authentic self: Taali is based on the inspiring life of transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant. The show depicts Sawant’s arduous journey of mobilizing for trans rights and parity of dignity and rallying for state recognition of the trans community under the 'third gender.'
Sushmita Sen with the cast and crew of 'Taali,' Pic/Instagram
Sushmita Sen-starrer original series, Taali, based on the inspiring life of transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant is all set to premiere on 15th August on JioCinema. Created by Arjun Singgh Baran and Kartk D Nishandar and directed by National award-winning director Ravi Jadhav, the series will showcase the revolutionary story of Shreegauri Sawant, and her iconic fight for the recognition of the third gender in India. Sushmita Sen’s impressive transformation as the transgender activist has heightened the anticipation for its release on Independence Day.
Sushmita Sen is one of the first women to play a trans-woman onscreen in mainstream Indian cinema. Often, trans-women have been portrayed by men - for instance, the casting of Nawazuddin Siddhiqui in Haddi - which has attracted disappointment about reinforcing the man/woman essentialist binary and for boxing transwomen into the very labels they seek liberation from – that of deadnaming, not being ‘real’ women or being ‘mere crossdressers.’
The trailer of Taali, out now, throws light on the trials and tribulations of Shreegauri Sawant's life – and portrays her daring and poignant transformation from Ganesh to Gauri. The trailer opens with a young Ganesh who is mocked for expressing his desire to be a mother when he grows up and becoming the subject of distaste and horror when he curiously drapes a saree, wears a bindi and admires himself in the mirror. The trailer also shows a particularly heartbreaking scene of a hijra trying to convince young Ganesh of ‘never becoming like them when he grows up’ - because ‘he still has time to change.’
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The desperation that comes through this dialogue nods to how queerness is viewed as a ‘lifestyle’ or a deliberate ‘choice,’ rather than an intrinsic and irreversible part of one’s authentic self. It also speaks volumes on the intensity of sustained socio-economic ostracization and discrimination that the Indian trans community faces.
The trailer sketches the defiant and potent transformation of Sushmita Sen into Shreegauri Sawant and the barrage of abuse and ridicule she is subjected to as she transitions – not just as a social voice, but perhaps also as internal doubt and self-hatred (owing to systemic violence). The trailer also spotlights how Sawant gradually comes into her own and her tireless rallying for state recognition of trans people as the third gender in India - a lifelong struggle marked by persistence and resilience.
'Taali' promises to be a landmark show, shedding light on the plight and arduous journey of the beginning of recognition of trans rights in India through the lens of Shreegauri Sawant's courageous journey.
Sushmita Sen commented on her powerful portrayal of Shreegauri Sawant, "When I was first approached for Taali, in my mind it was an instant yes. However, I took six-and-a-half months to come on board, officially. I knew I wanted to be absolutely prepared, well-read and researched to take up a critical and significant responsibility like this one.”
“Shreegauri Sawant is an admirable human being, I connect with her in so many aspects, and I’m fortunate to have got the opportunity to live through her incredible life, through this series. The road ahead to inclusivity is a long one, and I’m certain Taali is a force that will help spearhead this shift in the consciousness."
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Shreegauri Sawant also shared, "I am overwhelmed and grateful to the entire team of Taali for treating my story with sensitivity. After interacting and looking at the effort Sushmita Sen put into getting my nuances right, I cannot think of anyone else doing justice to my character. She has portrayed my journey with so much authenticity.
“Gaali Se Taali tak ka safar mere liye bohot hi emotional journey raha. I will feel fulfilled if my story becomes a trigger for positive change in people’s outlook towards my community."
Born in Pune, Sawant left her home during her teenage years to avert disappointing her father, a serving police officer. She later founded the Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust in 2000, an NGO devoted to offering counselling to the transgender community and promoting safe sex practices. In 2014, Sawant made history by becoming the first transgender activist to petition the Supreme Court for adoption rights for transgender people and also adopted the child of a sex worker who had died of AIDS, marking the legitimacy of diverse kinds of motherhood and family.
However, there has been significant and rightful controversy over the casting of a cis-woman to portray the character of a trans-woman. In early 2022, when Taali was announced, the Mumbai queer community was overjoyed. Transpeople in the entertainment industry were excited about the opportunity of playing a leading and heroic role about an identity that they understood deeply and could portray authentically.
However, when Sushmita Sen was announced as the leading lady, many from the trans community viewed it as a further marginalization of their identities and existence - a film that was disowning their realities while claiming to represent and uplift them. The creators claimed that a big name like Sushmita was important to attract an audience, but the counterargument asked how trans creators would get big if they were never cast by prominent directors. While Sushmita Sen taking on Sawant’s role and acknowledging the significant responsibility and sensitivity it demands is a significant step towards authentic queer representation in mainstream Indian film, Bollywood still has a long way to go.