A simple yet heartwarming 1 minute 40 seconds advertisement from a jewellery brand is breaking the internet, and it has become the centrefold of every discussion around trans rights in the country. A woman assigned male at birth; her desire; the love of her parents; the dreams and journey of a transgender person; every aspect was rightly captured in the recently-released ad film for Bhima Jewellers, which has crossed 800k views on YouTube on the date of writing. The advertisement’s success is not the views it generated but the message it has sent across society.
When I first saw the advertisement, I could not stop crying with joy. As a trans woman, I could relate to the plot of the commercial. No, I did not relate to it because something similar happened to me, but because it is a common dream of many trans women, including me. Seldom we witness such heart-warming stories of Transgender persons on screen. Amidst the hopelessness, the new jewellery advertisement came as a silver lining, echoing the sentiments of transgender persons. Such trans-visibility on the silver screen is very rare, and this kind of initiative can help start the conversation that is long overdue about the stories of transgender persons. This ad film has certainly put a smile across the faces of millions of trans-persons.
I had the opportunity to speak to the agency that made the film as well as its trans-protagonist.
When asked about how they came up with this idea, Sayantan, from the agency that created the ad film said: “When thinking of an idea, it came to us that the act of giving jewellery embodies the blessings of the giver to a new life. It is a symbolic and heartfelt gesture and something we could base our communication around while depicting a trans person and their family”.
While talking about the importance of visibility in the Transgender rights movement, the beautiful protagonist of the commercial, Meera Singhania, who was previously featured in the advertisement of dating platform Bumble, said that, “Media visibility is a crucial point in the transgender rights movement. Media has the power to influence the masses and create impact. It’s important to have trans people in positions of power so that the mainstream media starts viewing us in a different light. Having actual trans people being cast as actors/models breaks the vicious cycle of portraying us in the same, generic stereotypical lens where a cis actor demonizes us.”
Barring a few examples like Nary Singh for Kalakandi, Rudrani Chhetri for The Last Colour and Gauri Savant in the acclaimed Vicks commercial, cisgender persons have mostly played the role of transgender characters on-screen. More often than not, most of these characters are for comic relief. Even in 2021, The Kapil Sharma Show is a prime example of disgrace to the community wherein cisgender heterosexual men are crossdressing and becoming the butt of transphobic jokes to create a cheap laugh. The makers of such movies and shows never understand transgender persons’ trauma due to such stigmatized stereotyping and mainstreaming of Transphobia.
Meera opines on this matter, saying, “A cisgender person acting as a trans character is appropriation. It is the most condescending [act] that anyone can pull, in the name of “acting”. You can’t act as a trans person, without being one because it’s not a random character. It’s a different social location altogether. This is extremely dangerous as it reinforces the same biases and stereotypes that have killed us since centuries.”
Given this gloomy scenario, when the community sees someone from amongst them sharing their story on the screen, it makes all the difference.
But, is the visibility of transgender persons on-screen everything? Can visibility alone stop the trauma inflicted by society? Certainly not, but it plays the role of an ice-breaker. However, it needs much more than that. While discussing the importance of visibility, Meera said that, “Media representation isn’t the sole solution. It’s a part of a reformative process. People need to start educating themselves, respecting pronouns, and to be sensitized enough to not care enough about the dead-name. Your curiosity comes at the stake of our mental discomfort.”
People, especially the allies, treat transgender persons as Google. They talk with trans persons and talk to them only to resolve their curiosity. I have often encountered the same when people ask me about my transition and surgery. These are our matters, and we like to keep them personal. It is a traumatic experience to explain the emotion and journey, specifically since the transgender person is not obligated to answer you.
The advertisement nevertheless has created an enormous impact on society, and people are talking about it. The response to the Bhima Jewellers ad film has been overwhelming, and people have expressed their immense love for the work it presents. “I feel a little overwhelmed with how well it is being received. I honestly wasn’t anticipating it to go this viral, and with the lovely comments I’ve been receiving, it is still difficult to process it all. I like the fact that people can relate,” said Meera, when asked about the response she is getting. However, with good intent, people are also praising the advertisement and using specific language that can be avoided as it alienates members of the community from the mainstream. In the words of Meera: “Certain things that I’d like to point out about the kind of words that are used, [because it] doesn’t sit very well with me in my head. I feel very unsettled with the words “diversity”, “inclusion”, and “acceptance”. As much as I get and respect the viewer sentiments, I can’t help but feel trans in a way I wouldn’t like to necessarily feel (if that makes sense).”
The transgender community is so marginalized that even the basic afforded to them is seen as something huge. One of my friends on Twitter once asked me, “Do you think it takes twice the effort and talent for Transgender persons to get noticed in the mainstream compared to their cisgender counterparts?” This is indeed the sad reality of transgender persons. People are not open to becoming friends with them or “accept” them, and it takes a lot of work for a transgender person to get the basic appreciation. On the other hand, allies manage to be praised after doing the bare minimum. As Meera rightly pointed out in our conversation, “Am I always supposed to sound grateful for my family [for] “accepting” me?” It is a pertinent question. The advertisement is in the right spirit, but people are praising it because a Cisgender family “accepts” their transgender daughter in the story. Allies and families need to answer this: Do you also expect your cisgender children, friends and siblings to be grateful because you “accepted” them? The word acceptance is most famously used while talking about God and Sinners. We are certainly not sinners, and the persons from whom we supposedly seek acceptance are not God. Meera further comments on this matter of so-called acceptance: “We need to understand that this is the bare minimum, decent, fundamental thing that ideally all “loving” families are supposed to do. We need to draw a line between appreciation and pedestalization. There are a lot more complicated nuances at play.”
The concern of every transgender person after the vitality of this beautiful advertisement is the risk of stereotyping and pinkwashing. Most platforms and brands, in the name of representation, peddle tokenism. When asked about this aspect, Meera says, “Just reminding that the ultimate goal is to not weaponize my representation to tick off certain boxes.” And this is what every transgender person urges. They want rights and recognition of their hard work, but not sympathy or tokenism.
On a personal note, every time I see someone praising the advertisement and talking about the emotions of a transgender person, I feel a small personal victory. When you see your story, portrayed by someone with whom you can relate, it feels empowering. As a trans woman, I always hoped for something like Boys Don’t Cry, POSE or the documentary Disclosure to happen on the Indian screen. The Bhima Jewellers ad may not be as grand as those shows or the documentary but it certainly did its part to start the journey. The ad film has started the debate and has broken a glass ceiling. I am hoping for more such robust initiatives in the coming days. Let’s talk about the issues the transgender community is facing. Such a conversation is the first step towards change. Let a healthy discussion begin. Visibility is a stepping stone, lets make Transgender persons more visible.