Nearly 15 years ago, Sakshi Juneja founded Gaysi Family, and as the name suggests, she founded it with an aim to find a family among the queer people. “I felt there wasn’t a space like this for people like us back then. Today, Gaysi has evolved into a huge community for queer people. There is a new face we get to see each time we conduct an event,” Juneja beams, adding that they are set to host one of their most loved events 2X2 Bar Night this weekend.
Sagar and Srijan Verma will perform at the event
“This time, the theme is sports, and it is called Seriously Sporty,” she tells us. 2X2 Bar Nights is Gaysi family’s bi-monthly queer meet-up, for which the party always has a theme like a pajama party or Punjabi night. This is the first time, since these bi-monthly parties started in 2016, that they will host a sport-themed party. “Queer people have a very strange relationship with sports. They’re either too masculine for it, or too feminine,” Juneja notes, adding, “So, this our attempt at claiming the space in our own jovial, community-centric manner.”
The games curated for the night include a fist challenge, who can hold a plank for the longest time, and the good ‘ole spoon race, among others. “We also have a small basketball court in one corner. All the activities are curated while keeping in mind the space of the venue and to bring back the old-school games which were challenging, but more importantly, fun. Winners will receive their well-deserved medals and trophies at the end of each game, as well,” she informs us.
As in the past, the event will host a small art section, which will include activities such as face painting, and music to get the party going. “In events like this, we always bring queer artistes to perform. This time, we’ve invited a duo from Delhi, who will be performing for the first time in the city,” she reveals. In the spirit of the theme, the pop/rock duo, Sagar and Srijan Verma, will bring famous sports themed songs to the stage. The list includes hits like Jo jeeta wohi sikandar, Halla bol, and Waka waka. Before she signs off, Juneja informs us that patrons must carry their most sporty look, as a special prize awaits to be claimed by the best dressed person at the end of the sporting spectacle.
On: September 9; 8 pm to 1 amAt: Monkey Bar, 14th & 33rd Linking Road, Bandra WestLog on to: @gaysifamily (registration link in bio)Call: 9702049026 (for enquiries)Entry: Rs 500
Sushmita Sen has been making waves with her achingly tender performance as transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant in the web series, 'Taali.' In a new interview with Humans of Bombay, she reflected upon her role in Shah Rukh Khan's film, 'Main Hoon Na.' The 1994 Miss Universe winner spoke about the unique trajectory and 'small but powerful role' of her character, Chandni Chopra - which was re-affirmed by late film maestro, Yash Chopra as well.
Sushmita said that Main Hoon Na became career-defining because everybody ‘keeps going back' to the film. Recalling a pivotal moment during the film's final edit, Sushmita said that director Farah Khan had apologized about her role in the film being fleeting.
"She (Farah Khan) called and said, 'Sush, I have seen the final edit and I have to apologise to you. Shah Rukh of course has the role, Zayed and Amrita have a role, but you are barely there'. So I was like, 'That is okay Farah, we had a deal, you kept through the promise, and I kept through it. It is done, now don't worry about it'. But inside I was thinking, 'Oh no, I am barely there!' The (Main Hoon Na) screening happened at Film City. My phone starts ringing. And I don't know why Yash ji (Yash Chopra) is calling me, the whole gamut of the industry is calling. So ab darr darr ke (scared) I pick up the phone."
She remembered the unexpected heartfelt praise showered upon her: ‘You have done amazing work, could not take my eyes off of you.' Fans told her they wanted to see her in the second half of the film and make appearances in multiple frames. Sushmita confessed she had avoided the screening, fearing disappointment since Farah Khan, the film's director, had mentioned her limited presence.
She then added, "From the response I knew something had changed. The role had not changed, the impact had. The role was still as small as it was, but it was powerful enough."
One of the most remarkable outcomes post the film's release was the transformation of the movie's promotional posters. Originally featuring Shah Rukh Khan, Amrita Rao, and Zayed Khan predominantly, the posters were revamped to spotlight Sushmita alongside Shah Rukh. This shift was a nod to the power of the audience's palpable demands to see the actress more prominently and publicly associated with the film.
"The reaction of the audience was so intense that the first posters of Main Hoon Na all over Bombay had Zayed Khan, Amrita Rao and Shah Rukh and Shah Rukh alone. By Saturday, after the film had released, there was Shah Rukh and me on every poster." That is the power of people and audience, and I have huge respect for that... the audiences were like 'We want her, we want to see her up there with him (Shah Rukh)'. Farah called me and said 'All the posters were being brought down and new ones are being put up. You better go for a drive today'. And I did.”
'Main Hoon Na,' Farah Khan's directorial debut, featured Shah Rukh Khan, Sushmita Sen, Suniel Shetty, Amrita Rao, and Zayed Khan. The film centers on Major Ram Sharma (played by Shah Rukh) undertaking a covert mission as a university student to shield a general's daughter, Amrita, from a treacherous soldier.
‘Taali’ is an episodic biographical series based on the life of iconic transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant who helmed the 2014 landmark petition that recognized trans people in India under the umbrella of ‘third gender.’ Starring Sushmita Sen in the lead role, it attempts to shine a spotlight on the resilient and obstacle-ridden journey of Sawant as she struggled for the social upliftment of her community, and her mobilization for state recognition of trans people and their rights.
Shreegauri Sawant has been a cultural icon for the Indian trans and queer community. Her fronting the 2014 petition where the Supreme Court eventually granted a legal status to transgender people and accorded them a series of civil safeguards was widely publicized at the time. It was also a precursor to the eventual striking down of Section 377 in 2018, which decriminalized homosexuality.
‘Taali’ narrates Sawant’s journey and transformation from a young Ganesh to trans activist Gauri primarily through a series of flashbacks that emerge when she converses with a white journalist hours before the 2014 judgment. Sawant tells the journalist that everything about her life is already on display, and to ask her incisive and new questions. But the series ironically progresses to give audiences an almost checklist-style conventional summary of Sawant’s life - and we walk away from the series being not much wiser about the life of the person behind the activist.
The series attempts to follow Sawant’s gritty and inspiring journey from boyhood. The initial episodes give us insights into Ganesh’s life - how he expresses his desire to be a mother when in school, and how he is ridiculed and punished for even daring to transgress social norms about gender and parenthood. We are drawn into the strikingly beautiful performance of Krutika Deo as young Ganesh. When he curiously drapes a saree, applies a bindi and lipstick and gazes at himself in the mirror, we stand behind him quietly admiring, even as his mother’s gaze mirrors ours in horror. We see Ganesh’s first battle as he struggles to survive after the passing of his mother, bears the wrath of his conservative father (the patriarchal authority doubled by his police uniform) and is even forced to visit a sex clinic and take hormonal pills in a desperate attempt to retain and revive his ‘manhood.’
Ganesh secretly befriends a hijra and finds some belongingness within their secretive subculture. A powerful sequence is when he is subjected to a regular day in the life of his hijra friend, where her dignity is violated and she is even physically abused as she asks for money from passersby. Upon asking her why she doesn’t work, the hijra tearfully answers - “These people who do not even give us beggers’ offerings with kindness, why would they give us work?” It is here, on the verge of adolescence, when the deep instabilities of the elusive life that Ganesh craves truly dawns upon him.
Eventually, Ganesh runs away from home to make a living in Mumbai. ‘Taali’ provides us with brief glimpses where Ganesh tries to integrate with the hijra communities in the big city and learns their synchronized clap (or their signature ‘taali’) as he stands at signals and taps on passing windows. He dons many hats - becoming a mustachioed waiter, a student completing his degree and a volunteer as a non-profit organization working for queer and trans rights.
The show is slippery with its sense of time as it tries to fit a complex life into a linear journey. Ganesh’s transitioning journey into becoming Gauri is treated with a lack of nuance and seems orchestrated. A mass public ridiculing of Ganesh by the trans community for pretending to be one of them, yet not truly one of them in his kurta-pyjama, short hair and mustache is shown to be one of the main and only trigger points. The internal confusion, inner subjectivity and turmoil leading up to and after her sex-change operation is depicted in a few montages - and her transformation from a meek and still unsure Ganesh into the messiah-figure of Gauri occurs far too quickly.
‘Taali’ highlights Sawant’s many milestones - from saving a bullied trans sex worker to being recognized at a US conference for her efforts to educate and financially empower those from her community. Yet, the narrative denies us insight into her daily life, the rich forms of her inner world or the source of her incredible strength.
Sushmita Sen shines in her achingly tender portrayal of Gauri Sawant. She breathes life into and slips almost effortlessly under the skin of the activist, playing her role with the grace, fierceness and charisma that one knows of both the actress and the activist. Sen nails Sawant’s verbal quirks, gesticulations and even her walk without ever becoming a caricature of a trans person.
There are certain arcs within ‘Taali’ where the intent behind the making of the series is executed well. Sushmita is convincing in her role of nurturing, adoptive mother (being one herself in real-life), and is shown to rescue children of sex workers who have succumbed to AIDS. Her friendship with Nargis, a firebrand of a transwoman who initiates her initial journey into the community and remains her most loyal right-hand woman, even saving her from being poisoned is heartwarming to watch. The eventual role-reversal, with Gauri’s unrelenting battle to secure dignity for Nargis, at least in death is also powerful. The post-operative Gauri’s integration ceremony is neatly juxtaposed with her father mourning the death of his son. However, these moments of nuance are few and far in between.
‘Taali’ seeks to push boundaries, but is itself embedded in a moral binary. Characters are clichéd - from the stereotypical looks of a pimp and sex worker to an over-the-top sleazy employer who attempts to sleep with an innocent teenage Ganesh. A baseless antagonist from within the community appears and fades post a botched murder attempt. While this was an attempt to show the divided loyalties in a trans community that is often perceived as homogenous, the depictions seemed rushed and abruptly resolved. Characters dramatically shift stances after hearing Gauri’s monologues, portraying a stark black-and-white characterization. For instance, an orthodox CEO who refuses to acknowledge trans people should have rights suddenly promises to allot two positions to reserve two positions for eligible candidates. These instances of characters having a sudden change of heart are hard to swallow.
‘Taali’ is a valiant effort to portray a real-life story of immense bravery, grit and resilience - but it fails to fully explore the dark depths of an underworld it claims to represent. A story of representation cannot be lauded for the fact that it was simply created - in an attempt to shed awareness of trans lives, the show largely reduces them to already-known struggles and conflicts. Sushmita Sen and Sheetal Kale, cis-women become the faces of trans lived experiences for greater commercial viability, and a girl plays the role of young Ganesh. The intricacies of personal subjectivities; and sisterhood, solidarity and enmity within the trans community are not delved into.
‘Taali’ grips at the edge of understanding the realities of the one of the most marginalized communities who live amongst us, and yet don’t. Towards the end of the show, the character Naveen, who co-heads Rahi, the non-profit gender-equality organization for which Sawant is shown to work, is revealed as gay. However, the only comment he makes about his queerness is that the struggles he faced pale in comparison to Sawant’s. Resorting to comparing different LGBTQIA+ identities and consequently their diverse, lived histories to highlight trans discrimination is not the most sensitive treatment of the Indian queer demographic.
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 entertainment, there is still a long way to go. More than ever, this is a chance to ask newer questions that problematize progressive storytelling and demand more from creators.
The first time we saw Rupa, who requests that we identify her by her first name only, she is dressed in a bright green saree with gold trimmings. She has matched it with gold-green jhumkas, and stands with her back turned to us. We tap her on the shoulder, and she spins, furrowed brows sitting above a pair of bright hazel eyes. “Namaste,” she says, “what exactly do you want to know?”
We have interrupted her during her chat with the staff at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) personnel in Kalamboli, Navi Mumbai. She is answering their questions about her weight, whether she had a fever since her last visit, has she stuck to safe sex, and does she have medicine in stock. It was nine years ago that the trans woman, now 32, was diagnosed with HIV.
“I had been unwell for a couple of years, in and out of the general physician’s clinic. I was a commercial sex worker at the time and one doctor told me to get tested,” says the Bihar native. “AIDS is very common in the Kinner community,” she says of her transgender brethren. “Many of us get into commercial sex work early because we know nothing else to survive.”
Dr V Sam Prasad, country program manager for AIDS Healthcare Foundation
The Panvel resident knew it was too late for her, but she is doing her bit to educate young trans persons about the use of condoms “We talk about condom negotiation and how to cajole customers to use one. Most of these kids are under 18 and have been in the trade since they were thrown out of their homes or are runaways.”
Rupa exited commercial sex work after the diagnosis, and has followed safe sex and the single partner rule since. “I usually roam the Kalamboli highway signal to collect money. And I am faithful to my partner; I am happy,” she says excusing herself; she must head to the local shop owner who will convert her coin collection from the previous night to notes.
Second from left, counselor Dhanushri Deodhar, Sister Jancy Joseph from sisers for the Destitute and Dr Divya Mithel with the centre’s staff. Pic/Aishwarya Deodhar
AHF has a head office in Delhi, while the Kalamboli centre operates from a space provided by the Sisters of the Destitute, a Syro-Malabar Catholic women’s religious institute. Its chief medical officer Dr Divya Mithel has been working with the women of this centre since its inception in 1991, when the area was nothing more than a truck stop and a den to acquire drugs and paid sex. Dr Mithel says that the centre was initially run with government aid but in 2013, funding was stopped and the AHF stepped in. “With every passing year, the age of those getting tested and seeking treatment is dropping. We now see a lot of young people, five to 18 years old. A large chunk of these belong to the queer community and identify as gay.”
Worryingly, this comes at a time when the Bombay High Court said that India must consider lowering the age of consent for sex because after the enactment of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, adolescents were being prosecuted for consensual relationships with minor girls.
Mihir Maher and Bismaya Kumar Raulo
In 2015, a survey conducted by online healthcare portal MediAngels.com found that among the 15,000 teenagers in six major metros, the first sexual contact for boys was at the age 13.72 years, and for girls at 14.09 years.
This is particularly rampant in the queer community. Dr V Sam Prasad, country programme manager for AHF, explains, “While the decriminalisation of Section 377 in 2018 came as a big relief to the LGBTQiA community, it meant that you could not be jailed for having sex with a person of the same gender. The community would now gather without fear. Under-age queer persons and in particular, Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and bisexual persons also began to attend these celebratory events and gatherings with fake identity.” AHF staff say that a spike in HIV cases in the queer community is being reported in centres in both Mumbai and Delhi. “Symptoms begin to show typically six months after unprotected, indiscriminate sex. The minors then used the same fake identity cards to visit our centres. We ensure that they are tested, counselled and handed medication. If we insist that they come with a guardian, they will never return. Our experience has also revealed that they are using social media to connect with adult men from the community. There is no way to verify age online; you are as old as you say you are.”
A major deterrent for minors to get tested and opt for antiretroviral therapy (ART) which suppresses the HIV+ virus and prevents it from thriving is the need for them to be accompanied by an adult. This, believes Prasad, is a big reason why medical help isn’t being sought. “The stigma of being an HIV+ infected person coupled with the shame of being queer makes matters worse.”
AHF has tied up with Impulse, a volunteer-based organisation that works with members of the queer community on HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), drug prevention and mental health, to host awareness and communal events. Mihir Maher, president, Impulse Mumbai, says that no minors are allowed here. “We only connect with them online. In metros like Mumbai, we see that underage persons have easy access to information and multiple dating apps. Simply entering on inaccurate birth year allows you to use Grindr, Bumble and Tinder. Many users are minors who do not know enough about safe sexual practices and end up with HIV and STI.”
According to the Mumbai District Aids Control (MDACS), Mumbai has registered 1,616 HIV+ cases. Of these, approximately 50 are under 18, says an official. The total number of positive cases stood at 1,245 last year and was 1,158 for 2020-21.
Bismaya Kumar Raulo, Impulse India program manager, has been living with HIV since a few years ago. They are particular, he says, about screening minors at their events that are held three times a week across Mumbai and Delhi. “We must stop encouraging condom negotiation with those who are not in commercial sex work. The queer community must go with the no-condom-no-sex rule,” says Raulo over the phone from Delhi. “One Saturday, we decided to place an HIV testing booth at one of our events in Delhi.
Of the 96 visitors who got tested that day, 12.5 per cent were HIV reactive. We cannot deny that the community is in fact, at serious risk.” An HIV reactive result could be a sign of an HIV infection, but it’s not the same as a positive result. “We are trying to work with members of the queer community who tend refuse to seek help from an NGO or government organisation because of the stigma of being called out as MSM and HIV infected.”
At the Kalamboli centre, counsellor Dhanashri Salunke is talking to a young man who tested HIV+ the previous day. He is accompanied by a friend who whispers to him, “Everything will be alright.” When we ask the friend where they are from, “Gujarat,” he says.
The centre gets a large number of patients from Bihar, Rajasthan and Gujarat. “They don’t want to go to centres in their villages since they fear being outed as both, gay and infected. AIDS may not be the looming monster it was in our minds some time ago, but it’s very much here,” says Salunke.
BTS have been paving the way in more ways than one. Apart from being a global music and cultural sensation, they have also raised awareness about the stigma surrounding mental health and illness, especially amongst youth. They have also been flagbearers of celebrating inclusivity and diversity - and one way they do this is by embracing gender-fluid fashion.
BTS members Kim Taehyung aka V and Park Jimin are especially at the forefront of flaunting their unique, eclectic and gender non-conforming sartorial choices. Taehyung's stunning visuals and sensual deep baritone is enough to woo ARMY - but an integral part of his self-expression and personality is his sometimes neutral-palleted, at others, bold and edgy wardrobe.
Taehyung is set to embark on a highly anticipated solo journey with his forthcoming album "Layover," slated for release on September 8. The announcement revealed BigHit music triggered a wave of excitement among fans eager to witness V's individual artistic expression.
Taehyung has been engaging in several promotional activities leading up to the big release of the album. One of them included a cover photoshoot for W Korea where he once again embraced fashion celebrating the spectrum of gender fluidity. The video opened with a shot of Taehyung's slender hands, adorned with thick silver rings (with a reptile crawling along it, no less!)
ARMYs then got to see Kim Taehyung in his full glory - his blond hair slicked back and styled in a cut-out oversized black leather dress. The embellished cheetah silver earring in one ear definitely caught our eye as did his nail art! V recently flaunted his nails in a livestream, sharing that he was attempting to follow in J-Hope's fashionable footsteps - and this video proved that the nail salon definitely took up V's look another notch.
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V also celebrated gender fluidity in another recent photoshoot for Arena Korea, labeled 'The Kim Taehyung era' by BTS' ARMY, showcased V in two distinctive outfits. In one image, he appeared shirtless, accented only by an animal-printed bandana and tousled hair. Another frame captured him in a sequined sleeveless cropped top paired with skinny pants and a statement leather belt. A final standout ensemble included a red leather jacket mesh shirt, black pants, and heeled Chelsea boots.
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His music video for 'Love Me Again,' one of the lead singles of his album 'Layover' also featured him in gender-defying clothing such as a glittering gold ensemble with ear cuffs and a red fishnet top. We can't wait to see what more the artist has up his sleeves!
In a world that seems to simultaneously embrace and exploit the concept of freedom, Gen Z grapples with its complexities. Aashna Dhiman, a 23-year-old cinematographer from Mumbai, articulates the intricate dilemma: "Freedom, as an idea or a means of expression, has never been more confusing and misleading than today." She underscores the desire for a world accepting of differences, yet acknowledges how freedom can be weaponized to spread discord and hatred. “We want everyone to believe that we have freedom of choice and live in a world which is more accepting and accommodating of all differences. However, the more we see people misusing ‘freedom’ to create unrest, fear and hate towards other people that are not like them or don’t hold perceptions similar to theirs, we understand how futile this concept really is.” For Dhiman, freedom is to be able to express herself freely, be who she is, and express what she stands for without fearing if that will put her life and security at risk. 77 years since India's liberation from colonial rule, Gen Z dominates the nation's demographic landscape, injecting it with vibrant energy. This generation faces mounting pressures – a cutthroat job market, escalating health concerns, rapid technological evolution, and the rise of artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, they are emerging as transformative forces. Nidhi Borana, a counselling psychologist and career advisor, observes, "Gen Z is transforming the world in unprecedented ways." This generation exhibits heightened awareness of societal issues, fearlessly voicing their opinions, and embracing challenges. On the eve of Independence Day, we engaged with a few Gen Z individuals to decipher their interpretations of freedom and how their generation exercises the right of being free in their life. Jyotsna Datta, a 22-year-old assistant editor at Youth Incorporated, shares her perspective: "Freedom to me means being able to act on my own decisions. True freedom is when I can wholeheartedly pursue my goals without external hindrances. Whether that's somewhere that I want to go, something I want to do, or something I want to wear. In fact, freedom from myself is also important sometimes. What I mean by this is that I often let my own negative thoughts get to me and don't do certain things for myself.” Soham Bhangale, a 21-year-old junior associate at MNA Capital Advisors LLP, echoes this sentiment: "Freedom is the power to do what I want without worry. I feel most free when I explore Mumbai's streets with a sheer interest to explore and experience new things without worrying about anything at all.” For Surabhi Arora, a 22-year-old law student at Jindal Law School, freedom is the power to make choices without fear. Being independent for Gen Z is paramount Freedom is intrinsically linked to independence. The capacity to make choices is magnified by an independent life. Dhiman emphasises its significance: "Being independent is crucial for me. It not only shapes my life but also improves the lives of those around me." Bhangale underlines financial independence's importance: “If I am financially independent, I am no longer anyone's burden. Financial independence helps me take charge of my life completely. It gives me the power to spend money on things or causes that I want to. I wouldn't be able to do so if the money wasn't my own.” Jyotsna Datta elucidates, "Independence is liberating, making us self-sufficient. One should always strive towards this feeling of independence because that's how we start living in the real world.” How Gen Z exercise freedom in some key aspects of their life In various aspects of their lives, Gen Z exercises freedom with unwavering commitment. Borana commends their courage in challenging long-standing norms. This generation defies convention, advocating for gender equality, body positivity, mental health awareness, unconventional careers, and progressive dating. Mental health and Self-care A growing number of Gen Z are open to seeking help when needed. They are free to make that choice because educational institutions have in-house counsellors who help the young navigate their way out from an issue or at least guide them the right way. According to Borana, mental healthcare has become more accessible to Gen Z. Besides having a counsellor in educational institutes, having access to social media has gone a long way in raising awareness about the relevance of mental health among Gen Z and also reducing the stigma around it. Bhangale speaks about the lack of awareness of mental health among older generations and how that has changed over the years. He says, “Gen Z are increasingly being supportive of people dealing with mental health issues. Earlier generations would power through everything life threw at them, accepting things as they were and mental well-being wasn't even considered to be a serious issue. Now, mental health is being recognised as important to a person's overall well-being”. Datta adds, “I have seen people talk about mental health like physical health. Going to therapy is not something that people have to hide anymore. People are able to be open about how they're feeling. I think that opening up is important because it not just helps us, but in some ways, helps others too”. Gender identity About how her generation navigates gender identity, Dhiman asserts, “Thanks to the tools of expression we have today like social media and personal blogs, we are more aware of people’s struggles and their expressions. As a 23-year-old, I have friends who are proudly living their lives as gay, bi-sexuals and gender-fluid people and I cannot imagine judging them for something so natural and human. I believe that our generation has more empathy towards diverse identities and chooses to have conversations around complex and difficult realities that people from the community are living. We are open to attending pride parades, engaging with thought-leaders and change-makers from the community and addressing gender issues through our films and ads”. Adding to this Datta says, “I think it is great that our generation is able to be whoever they want freely. Even though it is still very hard for some people to show who they really are, I think we've still come a long way. It's not just about individual people, it's also about how communities are coming together to support each other and show people that there is a place for everyone”. Body positivity With celebs and social media still continuing to set unrealistic beauty standards, we yet have a long way to go when it comes to body positivity. Quite rightly, Arora says, “Body shaming and body dysmorphia is still a pressing issue that must be dealt with delicately. Many in my circle experience body shaming by immediate relatives or are unhappy with the way they look. However, there is rising awareness of this as well as acceptance in many cases. It is important to be easy on oneself”. Sharing her take on body positivity, Dhiman says, “Although platforms like Instagram come with a lot of social pressure to “look good”, it has also allowed plus-sized models and creators to garner support and love for what I would say is a perfectly human way to be. Moreover, it is wonderful to see people becoming aware of the stereotypes that renowned brands promote in their advertisements and voicing out their need for more visual inclusion. Not to forget, there are new clothing lines and startups coming up that specifically design products for certain body types and skin colours today; a movement that is creating room for more personalities to shine and inspire”. Bhangale adds, “A growing wave of body positivity is flowing through Gen Z where everyone is more accepting of people having different body types”. Love and dating Flings, causal dating, open relationships, situations, etc. The list of new-age dating terms and concepts is exhaustive. Unlike other generations, Gen Z is more open and willing to explore new connections. While Arora looks at experimenting with newer ways of dating positively, Datta thinks, the love and dating scene with the GenZ has become more complicated than it used to be. However, she too thinks it is healthy to experiment with new forms of dating. She says, “It's great that people are getting the confidence to explore and try new things. If they don't like it, there's no obligation for them to stay in a particular relationship.” How Gen Z exercise their right to freedom of expression using social media Over the past few years, Borana has seen students being more vocal on social media. She says, “Social media is the strongest tool that helps Gen Z exercise their right to freedom of expression. They have an outlet to freely express themselves and also feel validated.” In agreement, Datta says, “This generation is so honest and open about their feelings. That is a great thing. Being able to voice your opinions and having a platform where your voice is heard is so important. Not only this, but I think that this generation is also more open to listening to other people's opinions and that's what helps in having healthy discussions about things, whether that's political beliefs, personal beliefs, or anything else”. Borana however cautions about their online privacy and hate which also comes along with expressing on social media. Expressing her concern, the counsellor says, “The information people share online might not always be processed in the right manner. Sometimes what one expresses might not be received well by other users leading to hate comments that can disturb the individual and also end up damaging the society in a way”. Also Read: Independence Day 2023: Here's how you can help children celebrate with these fun activities
The Indian ramp is witnessing alternative ideas of expression of gender identity. New versions of masculinity and femininity, both, neither and everything in between are emerging.
India Couture Week 2023 recently concluded its 16th edition at the Taj Palace in New Delhi. What truly stole the show for us was one such trailblazing ramp walk by gay model Rabanne Victor who strutted down the runway in a resplendent golden fishtail lehenga. Victor talked to Mid-day exclusively about his experience at India Couture Week and engaged in discussion with us about defying gender stereotypes and norms around clothing, and otherwise.
Speaking about his ramp walk, Rabanne said, “I loved it. I had so much fun. But I don't have any practice walking in heels. Or in a lehenga. It was quite a heavy garment, plus the veil was pinned into my head. And so I walked out feeling really confident. But that first step, I miscalculated and I couldn't really see where my foot was going because of the lehenga. And I fell. And then after that, I was just in my head because I was only focused on not falling again. So I was shaky and I couldn't focus on keeping my stomach in and staying poised.”
Couture Week, unlike its deceptive name, is an event spanning eleven days - Rabanne talked about how early call times, long rehearsals and of course, the after-parties could potentially affect one’s sleep, but conversely also help one understand more about one’s body. Thus, if Victor felt nervous about his initial stumble, we certainly didn’t notice it because of how gracefully he completed the rest of his walk!
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In an interview with India Today, the model had mentioned that he felt like a princess walking in a lehenga and high heels for the first time - and he confirmed that the walk definitely felt like coming into his own. Rabanne was originally slated to walk for Falguni Shane Peacock at an event in 2016, but could not join the roster at the time because of the label’s prerequisite of clean-shaven male models.
“Well, apart from the fact that I look really ridiculous with a clean shave, I told them I couldn’t do it because I had already been booked for other shows,” he chuckled and told us. In 2023 too, Victor was a surprise addition to the Falguni Shane lineup.
“I was accompanying my friend and the fitting got over at a really late hour, nearly 11 p.m. And then Shane and Falguni were there. And I was like, Shane, you know what? I'd really love to do this show with a clean shave. But only if you put me in women's wear. And they were like, come on, we have one. There's one fishtail lehenga. Let's just try it on. I was in the changing room, I put it on.”
Victor describes the moment that followed as a simple yet rich moment of queer joy -
“And I was just like, I just felt so beautiful there. It's insane how a garment can transform the way you see yourself and how you feel. I just felt so beautiful.”
“When I stepped out to show them, I mean, I just couldn't stop blushing. I was just so happy. And I was feeling myself. I didn't have heels on, but I was walking on my toes. And I just felt like a diva, supermortal. Then when they put the veil on, it took it up to another level. Because under the veil, I mean, I don't really know what a bride feels like. But I imagine that's what a happy bride would feel like.”
Rabanne confesses that the designers did not have to make any alterations to the outfit - and even allowed him to walk the ramp sporting a stubble. A true win-win situation!
Pre-modelling, Victor always worked in industries that allowed him to keep his creative juices flowing. He did multiple stints as a graphic designer, a promotional manager for events, and even worked in refurbishing furniture and interior decor. Travel was a constant undertone in all the jobs he chose, which is part of the reason he loves the modelling business as well.
Much like his 2023 walk at India Couture Week, modelling was also a luck-by-chance affair for Victor. After working in Sri Lanka, he returned to Mumbai and was almost literally cast off the streets.
“My best friend, she was with an agency. And she had a meeting with them. And so I went on my scooter to drop her. And then they saw me outside and they asked her for my Facebook. And then they contacted me and asked me if I'd be interested in modelling. I never really thought of modelling as a job for me. Because I've always been very self-conscious. But touchwood, things went really well from there.”
We asked Rabanne to share a little bit about his first steps in the modelling industry as an openly gay model. He shared that he was often harassed growing up for being skinny and long hair, which had also affected his self-perception and bodily acceptance. While he did face rejections initially for having a lean and lithe figure, he also received the opportunity to work with fashion bigwigs early on, which put his face on the Indian fashion scene right from the start
Over the years, the fashion industry has undergone a tectonic shift in terms of greater willingness towards inclusivity and diversity of body sizes (even though the ‘fantastical’ male body is very much considered the more socially ‘legitimate’ body). It seems as though the largely homogenous appeal for the much touted ‘muscular alpha male body’ and the ‘macho’ garb is coming off with an orientation towards models that defy aesthetic conventions of size and colour - and Victor’s physique and statement hair serve as proof of the embracing of the more youthful, ‘boyish’ look.
Modelling is often perceived as ‘performative’ and for an audience - but we asked Rabanne if conversely, it has also made him feel more comfortable in his own skin.
“There's good days and bad days. Some shoots, I'll be feeling wonderful about my body. But then there's other days where I'm not so happy. And then there's many times where I'm like, okay, this is really not the right line of work for me.”
Victor’s journey with mental illness and body image also led to him feeling conscious about himself auditioning alongside other models in the past. But he says, “One thing I've learnt about myself from modelling is that I'm not going to change who I am. Take it or leave it.”
Fashion and clothing have been such an integral part of identity and self-expression for so many in the queer community (even while wearing/not wearing a certain kind of outfit can also reinforce social constructs and stereotypes about queer identities). We asked Rabanne if fashion and gender-fluid sartorial choices have helped him in his journey of queerness.
Rabanne tells us how he was ridiculed for being effeminate or ‘girly’ owing to his physique and long hair while growing up as a desi queer kid in Mumbai. Things changed during that crucial, tender period of young adulthood, when he received the opportunity to study in San Francisco.
“I first got a taste for it when I went to university. I studied in San Francisco, which was, I don't know if it still is, but back then it was the gay capital of the world. And when I went there, I mean, I got to, like, really, I wasn't very flamboyant with my dressing or anything. And I didn't really go too crazy. But, like, small things, like, I bought a pair of red skinny jeans, which in Bombay I would never have done. But I bought them in San Francisco and I'd wear them to college and stuff. And I just felt so nice to be able to dress how I wanted, without anybody looking at me or make bashing comments. My friends and I used to paint little hearts on our faces - and small things like that made me happy.”
With inclusivity becoming paramount for fashion, Victor says that modelling has become a safe space for him. “It's a great time to be in the industry right now. In the fashion scene, I get to go for shows and have makeup on. And then, when you're with the fashion crowd at the after-parties and things, I don't really think too much because I know I'm with like-minded people.”
“But yeah, dressing, fashion really has been liberating. It’s simple things like just a smoky eye. It makes me feel so confident. Yeah, even wearing heels is so empowering at that height.”
We also asked Victor what it felt like to be smashing gender norms through clothing.
“Oh my gosh, it's overwhelming and scary. I'm just grateful that I get to do this. Yeah, I'm just overwhelmed and very thankful. And I find (the attention) very odd also.”
“But I'm very grateful. And I remember, for me, the Falguni Shane thing actually brought back memories from my childhood. Because I remember when I was in school, I went to my best friend's house in the fourth grade. And she had a ballerina dress. And so I was at her house and I put it on. And I was so excited to have it on. I was dancing around and stuff. And I didn't want to take it off.”
From a tutu-clad fourth grader who was floating on air as he walked back home to a model who has become a prominent face of gender-fluid fashion, India Couture Week has certainly marked a full-circle moment for Rabanne Victor.
Labels are now embracing androgynous fashion and stylistic elements even amidst a conservative insistence on queerness as a ‘western’ concept that has infiltrated and sullied ‘Indian’ culture. In the context of increasing rallying for LGBTQIA+ rights in india, and the ongoing petition concerning same-sex marriage at the India Supreme Court, brands like Falguni Shane Peacock and Sabyasachi are introducing bridal couture and fashion incorporating gender-fluid aesthetics and flair. Ethnic outfits now have gender-fluid elements, like the outfit Rabanne Victor flaunted at India Couture Week as well as for his Sabyasachi ‘Charbagh’ shoot.
While this certainly points to a trend of allyship, it remains to be seen whether the fashion industry and brands will perceive gender fluidity and inclusivity purely as commercially viable factors that can be banked upon or truly maintain their stance on equality and diversity in the long term.
The lavish Indian wedding spectacle has been a centerpiece of Hindi entertainment for a long time. However, what lurks behind this performative display of love has been far less examined – and Made in Heaven does exactly this – it self-reflexively explores the dark side of India’s elite. With Season 2 releasing tomorrow, we are exploring what makes this show special.
The series follows mainly two protagonists, Tara and Karan who are founder-partners of Made in Heaven – a Delhi-based wedding consultancy and planning agency. They are tasked with designing and selling ‘heaven’ to their uber-rich clientele.
The show uses the subtext of the different weddings that they plan to delve deeper into Tara and Karan’s private dysfunctional, hellish landscapes.
Made in Heaven is a show that truly champions LGBTQIA+ identities, queer rights and protest. The social and political shame, stigma, discrimination faced by Indian queer people and re-affirmation of queer identity is tenderly portrayed, unlike in so many mainstream films and television where queer characters, and by extension, their lived experiences have been disregarded, ridiculed or used as comic relief.
Arjun Mathur plays Karan, a closeted gay man who is grappling with the emotional consequences of hiding part of his identity. The show never attempts to police choice, sex or desire. Karan has several one-night stands whom he hushedly asks to leave in the morning. Queer desire is portrayed in an achingly tender and disarmingly sensitive manner. It builds cinematic sensualities to portray what queer desire, really, at its heart is – essentially human.
However, his secret exploits of pleasure and pursuit of emotional intimacy are juxtaposed by memories and the lingering grief of social, familial and self-inflicted childhood trauma. The adult Karan leads a double life which is often suffocating - and this is visually also represented by often framing him behind window bars and closed gates.
Karan lives in perpetual terror of authentically leading his life in a country which criminalizes homosexuality. As the show progresses, Karan’s landlord gets increasingly suspicious about him entertaining multiple ‘male friends’ frequently and secretly installs a security camera in his bedroom.
The audience is drawn into believing that he is homophobic, and collecting evidence to turn in to the police, but the title of the episode, ‘A Marriage of Convenience’ betrays that all is not what it may seem. This is later confirmed when the landlord’s wife catches him masturbating to the footage.
The conversation between the landlord and his wife is particularly striking – he claims he is engaging in ‘watchful surveillance’, but in his attempt to convince not only his wife but also himself of his heterosexuality, one senses the futile attempt at veiling pleasure, shame and loss of part of oneself.
When he turns in the evidence to the police to appease his wife’s fears about him being gay, the camera zooms in on him watching Karan being arrested from behind the bars of a window, much like Karan earlier was. The show brings out the complex simultaneous hypocrisy and internal battle of an oppressed figure turned oppressor, unwilling to fully claim or relinquish his identity in a country that will ostracize him to the margins.
That 'Made in Heaven' depicts surveillance (a reality that queer people constantly grapple with) in the incredibly intimate space of the bedroom also brings up questions of freedom and desire – who are truly ‘free’ to choose their sexual and/or romantic partners and celebrate one’s relationships? Who is permitted to exercise the full extent of their agency when it comes to expression of sexual and romantic desire and pursue intimacy and in which spaces?
Karan spends several nights in jail where he is brutally abused by a policeman upon refusing to gratify his sexual desire. This points to the violation of privacy even within supposedly ‘safe’ spaces such as the home for queer people and once again, the hypocrisy of oppressors who exploit the marginalized for the same clandestine pleasures they apprehend them for -- reflecting the lived realities of many Indian non-urban and/or economically underprivileged queer people.
Unlike how queer characters have conventionally been depicted in Indian entertainment, Karan’s sexual orientation is not just a plot-building device, but an integral, real part of his identity and his life. Throughout the show, one senses both torture and tenderness in the reluctant yet desperate closetting of his identity. Karan’s encounter with the law leads him to re-assess his journey of self-acceptance, and he eventually files a PIL against Section 377. The first season closes with Karan coming out and engaging in actively rallying and protests.
The show has further cemented its stance on LGBTQIA+ rights in India by bringing Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, Karnataka’s first trans doctor onboard for the second season of the show. In discussing her character with Outlook India, she said that despite being professionally successful, her character on the show grapples with acceptance as a trans woman in her personal life, especially when it comes to finding love.
“Through this character, I want people to see that trans women are women and deserve every right to be treated as such. Trans people in general are human beings, and we deserve opportunity, love, respect, success. In a country where 99% of us are discarded by our biological families, I want society to see that a little acceptance goes a long way,” she said.
The series is truly paving the way for authentic queer representation in mainstream Indian visual content - and it’s about time for others to follow! We can’t wait to see how the creators and cast will further these queer narrative arcs in Season 2.
‘Made in Heaven’ season 2 will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on August 10.
The much-awaited series, 'Taali' featuring ex-Miss Universe, Sushmita Sen, playing the role of a trans woman, Shreegauri Sawant, has been stirring up buzz on the internet for quite some time. The show's creators, Arjun Singgh Baran and Kartk Nishandar shared their exhilarating experience of bringing this extraordinary narrative to life in an interview with Hindustan Times.
In the months leading to the show, they maintained a tight-lipped approach, releasing only a single poster of Sushmita, followed by a well-timed break before releasing the teaser and the trailer. The audience's overwhelming response to the teaser came as a pleasant surprise, exceeding the creators' expectations. " The response to the teaser has been mind-blowing. The positive response was unexpected," they said.
Sushmita Sen was the team's unanimous first choice for the protagonist's role. The actress took six months to soak in the script and the essence of her character, reflecting her meticulous approach and commitment to perfection. Her dedication to understanding the story and character raised many questions amongst the creators, leading them to ponder whether she would accept the role. However, her subsequent decision to come on board put their concerns to rest.
During the show's conception, Sushmita was the face they envisioned for the character of Shreegauri Sawant. When they shared this idea with Shreegauri herself, her excitement was palpable. "When we were writing also, we thought what if Sushmita plays this role? We have seen male actors playing transgender. Shreegauri is a beautiful woman. We thought of getting another male actor to play Gauri but it wasn’t going well. One of the most beautiful, who is intelligent and also respected–Sushmita was it," the creators said.
Once they pitched the idea to Sushmita, they didn't approach any other actor. The actress thoroughly immersed herself in the project, replying to their messages, asking questions, and investing her time and energy into understanding the character. Embodying a transgender woman was a brave choice, requiring two hours of makeup every day, without prosthetics, to give her the desired look.
Creating a believable portrayal of a trans character is a delicate task, requiring careful attention to detail. The creators undertook exhaustive research to ensure authenticity, even in the smallest aspects, such as the way Sushmita's character would walk. They engaged in intensive training programs and held interactions with trans individuals, some of whom were also cast in the show. Their insights helped in accurately representing the transgender community's experiences, rituals, and conversion process.
The creators chose Shreegauri's story to shed light on the struggles and lack of recognition faced by the transgender community. They aimed to tell a human story, aiming for an authentic representation of the community rather than stereotypical, over-the-top portrayals. Their intention was to create content that audiences worldwide would appreciate, telling a positive and motivational story.
While casting Sushmita as the lead garnered much support, the 'Taali' them has also faced criticism and ire for not casting a trans actor in the lead role. In explaining their decision, the creators said that having a well-known face like Sushmita was necessary to draw global attention to their story. They emphasized their commitment to inclusivity by highlighting the casting of 2200 trans actors in various roles within the show. However, for the show's commercial success, they needed a renowned face like Sushmita for the lead.
"We had to have someone like Sushmita because we are not making a documentary. It’s a story and we had to get someone people know and would travel the boundary for. It had to be someone exclusive who the world knows. That's the reason, Sushmita".
"It’s not that we haven’t cast trans people in the rest of the roles, you can see it in the show. Her whole team was from the community, from junior actors to others. But someone to portray Gauri had to be Sushmita. We made a commercial show. We are more than happy to cast a trans actor as a male or female in future".
The creators aspire to bring the stories and struggles of the transgender community to mainstream media. By casting a recognized actor like Sushmita, they hope to command global attention and inspire change in the perception and treatment of the transgender community in India and beyond.
"The main thing is how can we, as creators sell the story and get the whole world to watch it. This is why we have Sushmita. But we were very clear that we want to have trans actors too. They all have done a fabulous job in the show. You will find these questions all the time".
"Our main aim is to tell the story of Gauri and get the community to the mainstream. How you do it is to get a big actor. Nowhere except in India, trans people have to clap. They have always been sidelined and it’s sad. Our show aims to bring change".
I first went to therapy when I was at the lowest point in my life, and feeling suicidal,” says TEDx speaker and diversity leader Ankita Mehra, “but my therapist made me feel even worse, like there was no hope.”
Mehra, who was based in Nagpur at the time, decided to try therapy in her late teens, seeking out a trusted professional to confide in. “I came out to [my therapist] before my parents even knew about my identity, because I thought therapy was meant to be a completely judgement-free zone. However, when I opened up to him, he told me it wasn’t natural and that I should try with a boy. I felt he was pushing for conversion therapy.” Mehra’s horrific experience is one of many that reveal the startling inadequacies in psychological care for LGBTQiA+ individuals in India.
The diversity leader adds, “I’ve even seen a screenshot from the Practo app, in which a doctor advertised conversion therapy. The man had posted that he could ‘fix’ someone who is gay.” Practo is an app where users can arrange online consultations with medical professionals, and has a huge number of users from all across the country. “Any random user in search of a therapist on this app could come across ads like this, which is incredibly dangerous.”
Ankita Mehra, Pooja Nair and Ankur Paliwal
An alternative approach is queer-affirmative mental healthcare (QAMHC). Psychiatrist Dr Jithin T. Joseph recently published an article in the Journal of Psychosocial Health entitled Queer Affirmative Approach in Mental Health: A Need of the Hour in Indian Mental Healthcare, with guidelines for professionals. Dr Joseph says practitioners must, “recognise historical wrongdoings towards queer people.”
He explains that in the past, “mental health professionals would try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using conversion therapies. However, conversion therapies don’t have any scientific rationale and cause more harm to queer individuals.”
Ankur Paliwal, the founder and editor of a collaborative journalism project, Queerbeat, emphasises the importance of understanding that being queer is not a mental illness. He says, “We should be careful not to pathologise queer identities. Queer people are surrounded by hostility. It’s the society that is the problem, not our identities.”
Paliwal’s own experience highlights how government mental health services, in particular, need to drastically improve their treatment of queer individuals. “I went to a senior psychologist in Delhi, in a renowned government hospital. The psychologist didn’t know the appropriate terminology to refer to queer people, and kept using ‘othering’ language: repeatedly referring to us as ‘these people.’ At one point, she even said the hospital could ‘make me straight.’”
He adds, “As a journalist, I have seen evidence that doctors often misgender trans people. There is a lack of training, and more crucially, a lack of genuine empathy for the LGBTQiA+ community.” Referencing an article he commissioned for Queerbeat, he says, “the reporter travelled to government hospitals. Some psychologists didn’t even know the difference between trans and gay identities.”
Raj Mariwala, director of Mariwala Health Initiative, aimed at providing accessible mental health support for marginalised communities, points out that queer and trans people exist in a world where they are the minority, and therefore cope with systems that were not designed with them in mind.
“Queer people experience hostility that should be accounted for, but this approach doesn’t exist in the curricula for professionals,” they add. Mariwala runs a six-day course on queer-affirmative therapy. Pooja Nair, a faculty member for this course adds, “A positive sign is that the number of counsellors who want to equip themselves to be queer-affirmative has increased, but further change is still needed.”
Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, 26-year-old trans woman doctor turned actress, is poised to make her acting debut in 'Made In Heaven Season 2' on Amazon Prime Video India. The first season of this highly praised series, brought to life by directors Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, released in 2019 and garnered popularity as well as critical acclaim.
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In an interview with Outlook India, Trinetra shared more on landing the role and getting her big break. She said that she had auditioned for 'Made In Heaven 2' at the onset of her hospital internship. Taking the risk due to having nothing to lose and no industry connections, she expressed her disbelief and pride when it paid off.
“I auditioned for ‘Made In Heaven 2’ at the start of my internship in the hospital. I gave it a shot because I had nothing to lose. I had no contacts in the industry. When it worked out, I couldn’t believe it, and I still don’t think I can."
With acting, her main focus remains in crafting authentic stories and lived experiences, even while recognizing her journey in the field has just begun.
"I have a long way to go with acting, and I’d like to focus on telling stories and making them authentic to lived experience. I don’t know how my performance will be received, but what I take a lot of pride in, is that I auditioned for this, it wasn’t given to me,” she shared.
Her forthcoming role in the series marks a milestone for the Indian trans community as Gummaraju will be the first trans artist to have a recurring role in a mainstream OTT platform.
In further discussing her character, Trinetra revealed that she will portray a proficient wedding planner at 'Made In Heaven' overseeing grand-scale, elite weddings in Delhi. Despite her professional success, her character grapples with acceptance as a trans woman in her personal life, especially when it comes to finding love.
"Through this character, I want people to see that trans women are women and deserve every right to be treated as such. Trans people in general are human beings, and we deserve opportunity, love, respect, success. In a country where 99% of us are discarded by our biological families, I want society to see that a little acceptance goes a long way.”
Recalling her childhood fascination with cinema, Trinetra acknowledged that the thought of becoming Karnataka's first trans doctor and collaborating with top Indian creatives and filmmakers was something she never believed possible.
"As a young trans child, even the idea of becoming Karnataka’s first trans doctor, and then working with some of the biggest filmmakers in the country might have been entirely unimaginable. Working with Zoya Akhtar, Neeraj Ghaywan, Alankrita Shrivastav, Reema Kagti and Nitya Mehra - and all at once - is an actor's absolute dream, and the good fortune of it all is not lost on me.”
Post undergoing gender affirming surgery at the age of 21, Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju has emerged as a strong voice for the trans community in India. She is active on social media including Instagram and her posts celebrate queer and trans joy as well as body acceptance and positivity for the Indian queer community.
'Made in Heaven' revolves around the lives of Tara and Karan, played by Sobhita Dhulipala and Arjun Mathur respectively, who run a wedding-planning agency for the uber-rich of Delhi. The show delves into societal issues such as infidelity, forced marriages, politics, casteism, and elitism that are rife in these celebrations, providing commentary on how characters navigate these circumstances.
The show has also championed LGBTQIA+ rights in its first season as well, where Karan's experience as a gay man in India were authentically and tenderly portrayed. With Trinetra coming on board for a major OTT release, we hope to see the gamut of queer lived experiences being increasingly represented in mainstream Indian entertainment.
Made in Heaven season 2 will stream on Amazon Prime Video on August 10.
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