“Ye log samajhte kyun nahi hai? Main ladka hu.”
Sunny wraps a band-aid around their chest after uttering these words. There’s a wedding in the house for which attires are being picked.
“Mummy mujhe saree nahi pehenni hai.”
Sunny practices this in different styles? Oozing genuinity wrapped in fear and helplessness that reaches me despite the guffawing laughter of the surrounding audience. I had the opportunity to catch Shaadi ke Kapde, a much anticipated film of this year’s Kashish Queer Film Festival at Mumbai. Directed by Sonal Giani, this 10 minute long film speaks to us on themes of acceptance, homophobia, and the often invisibilized group within the LGBTQ+ community? Transmen.
The film begins with bleak music and bird eye shots of Mumbai as if warning you to step in it with caution, as if to tell you what’s going to unfold will have to be lived fully, not tiptoed around. What the opening, sprawling shots of big city loneliness point, you might later realise, is the copious loneliness and everyday struggle of living in a body you do not identify with.
From the expansive shots of Mumbai, we are eased into the ground with Sunny standing in a lift while their neighbours eye their masculinized attire. Several floors up, three women discuss the sarees they want to wear for the wedding in the family.
“Sunita abhi aati hi hogi”, says Suchitra.
We hear Sunny mumble their name, to correct Suchitra, to immediately dissociate from the identity imposed on them. As they step in, they receive similar stares from the women in the house.
“Sunita, ye kya kapde pehene hain tune?”, asks Suchitra finally wording her disapproval.
Sita, Sunny’s mother, seems calms. The house is swarming with colourful sarees and Sunny is asked (almost told) to choose one. They do not want to, we see from the mirror rehearsal. But Suchitra and Madhura do not seem to understand. When an adamant Suchitra forces bangles in Sunny’s hands, they leave. We hear a knock on Sunny’s room? Sita has come with shaadi ke kapde for Sunny and we see them smile. And it isn’t until they step out of the room wearing a sherwani, we realise that they felt heard too. The film ends with Suchitra apologizing and promising Sunny to learn, to be better.
I watched Shaadi ke Kapde two months ago and every scene of it remains fresh, especially Suchitra’s apology. It wasn’t an obligatory, now-move-onto-the-next-thing but came with a promise of learning, acknowledging one’s deep-conditioned homophobia, and expanding oneself to diversity, maybe even accepting it. What struck me was Sita’s acceptance manifesting in her calm responses to a panicking, homophobic Suchitra, and later in her decision of getting Sunny a sherwani instead of coercing them for a saree.
This film was made with an effort towards increasing visibility of transmen ? an oft ignored group even within the trans community. At a time when our popular culture is warming towards transwomen? Be it the Vicks ad featuring Gauri Sawant or the Kochi metro giving jobs to trans people (where the majority were trans women and gender non-conforming people), transmen neither find adequate representation on screen nor in the way our policies are designed.
When I look around for pop culture representing transmen, I immediately think of a recent Netflix show, Tales of The City, where Jake (played by Garcia) transitions and explore their sexuality. The show intricately develops Jake’s character? Someone who first identified as lesbian and after transition learns more about their sexual preferences (they’re interested in men, they realise). When it comes to desi pop culture, I am reminded of Nandini Krishnan’s book, The Invisible Men, which was ghastly misrepresentative in its self-proclaimed effort of visibilizing the transmasculine networks of India. The book did injustice to transmen and the entire queer community in its voyeuristic and transphobic narrative. The extensive criticism that the book received set home the reality of lack of representation of transmen and their lives.
While I was waiting for the next film to begin, Giani along with some friends stood near me. One of them pointed out how the audience laughed at all the wrong places? Like when Suchitra misgendered Sunny all the time or when people stared at Sunny for their attire. This behaviour baffled me too. Sunny’s gender expression wasn’t taken seriously. A lot of trans men have pointed out how they are relegated to androgyny or having a tomboy-ish phase. Here, Sonal Giani’s Shaadi ke Kapde plays an important role in at least starting a conversation. What I hope for now is adequate visibilization and amplification of the voices of transmen not only in our desi pop culture but also in our queer conferences, marches, and policies.