[Disclaimer: The review of the movie is purely based on my point of view and do not represent the sentiments of the transgender community as a whole. Every transgender person’s lived experiences and life struggles differ based on their backgrounds and the intersections of various identities, which potentially shapes their opinion to a large extent.
People often take personal opinions of individuals from the oppressed group as the representation of the entire community, and hence the disclaimer. Extrapolating personal opinion and imposing it on the larger trans community is totally wrong, and creates biases. This is my experience as a Savarna transgender woman watching Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. And I am someone who always sees the glass half full.]
Trigger warning – Mention of Transphobia.
The movie was released last Friday and believe me, I had no intention of watching this film since Bollywood is best known for churning out transphobic content. Transgender persons have mostly been used as comic relief in the past. So, I was not ready for yet another transphobic Bollywood creation. It is the movies that were meant to raise awareness about the LGBT+ community that have done the most harm.
When I first watched the trailer of Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (CKA) it brought back horrible memories of another film released earlier this year, Pati Patni Aur Panga. It mirrored the same storyline: that of a cisgender man falling in love with a transgender woman. I refused to watch the film because the trailer itself was mighty triggering.
In one of the scenes, the transgender character played by Aada Sharma (a cis-woman) says “6 mahine pehle main ladka thi, sex change karke main ladki bani hoon.” This particular dialogue triggered the hell out of me.
Transgender women are (and have always been) women, born in a body that is socially misconstrued – why is it difficult to understand?
the same storyline, a cisgender male falling in love with a transgender woman. I refused to watch the film because the trailer itself was mighty triggering.
In one of the scenes, the transgender character played by Aada Sharma says “6 mahine pehle main ladka thi, sex change karke main ladki bani hoon.” This dialogue triggered the hell out of me. Transgender women are women, born in the wrong body, why is it difficult to understand?
Some tears and smile:
Last Sunday, while I was busy scrolling through Instagram, I saw a post by Gazal Dhaliwal, an out-n-proud transgender woman and Bollywood writer. Her balanced and positive review prompted me to book the tickets and dare to watch it.
I reached PVR Bandra in the evening with no hopes from the film, but packed with courage to guard my sanity against the transphobia I was expecting to witness in the film. But to my surprise, I cried a lot, many times, throughout the 2-hour long movie. Although it has its flaws, it made this transgender woman smile in the end.
Characters and the movie:
CKA is Manu Munjal’s and Manvi Brar’s love story. Ayushmaan Khurana plays Manu’s character, a fitness freak and gym owner from Chandigarh dreaming to be the G.O.A.T., a.k.a. “Gabru of All Time”, and is, of course, a transphobic person. Manvi is played by Vaani Kapoor, a young transgender woman struggling her way through life and fighting every battle with a smile on her face. This movie is about Manvi’s pain from gender dysphoria and the struggles faced by her for being a transwoman. But this story is equally about Manu and how he learns and unlearns to overcome his transphobia.
In a not-so-serious manner, the film tries to convey a very sensitive story on the silver screen. The film-makers are bold to have chosen a subject that is seldom discussed.
Regardless of its flaws, the movie is an honest effort to highlight the pain and sufferings of the transgender community and to start a conversation, which is unexpected from Bollywood. It does a decent job in creating awareness without making it look like a documentary. It maintains a good balance of lighthearted, humour, and thankfully not at the expense of hurting community’s sentiments. Overall, for me it was a great experience.
It is a conversation starter:
CKA has its flaws as expected from any Bollywood movie. As usual Manvi’s trans girl character is played by a cisgender woman Vaani Kapoor, which has often been a point of concern in global cinema, be it Bollywood or Hollywood. It is not that we don’t have talented trans actors and yet time and again the film-makers cast cisgender persons in a trans-person’s role. The trans community doesn’t need such representation, and moreover, a cisgender person can never feel the pain of a trans person or be able portray it authentically on the silver screen.
However, just like Gazal’s insta post said, I am also happy with the fact that transgender persons’ stories are being told on screen, and that too in a positive light. This is a good start considering Bollywood’s history of irresponsible representations.
Resonance with Vaani:
As for Vaani’s performance as Manvi, I never expected that she would be able to pull off this role, but she proved me wrong. I could see the resemblance of my pain on her face. The finer things, like the fear of the unknown, the silent fight against society, and attempts to smile despite being in so much pain… it was all there.
The film has many relatable scenes, for instance, in one scene she walks past a group of people and sees their reaction through a mirror, and then she smiles happily for she could pass through them as a woman.
Another scene shows her making a profile on a dating app and facing a dilemma about which gender to choose before opting for her true gender – “Woman”. Or when she gets asked out on a date, the excitement on her face mixed with the fear of rejection.
The constant looking in the mirror before meeting anyone to make sure she is ‘looking like a woman’, the woman who she really is. The pain when she is explaining to people that she was born a girl but in the wrong body and that it is not her fault.
Through all these and many other scenes, Vaani does live up to the role. For the first time on the Indian silver screen, I saw my pain reflected and it made me cry a lot, several times. Kudos to Vaani Kapoor for breathing life into Maanvi’s character. The best part of her performance, as a transgender girl, that it felt like I was on the screen and it never felt like someone else is narrating my pain on my behalf.
And now some flaws:
Other than a cisgender woman playing a transwoman’s role, another flaw in the movie is usage of transphobic slurs that has been rightly called out by many from the transgender community. But in my opinion showing Transphobia is necessary to portray its ill effects on transpersons and to convey the message that social and behavioral changes are both urgent and essential. Maanvi’s daily struggle also shows the transphobia of the society which most transgender persons face in their everyday life.
Manu’s unlearning and learning phase where he goes through all the reading, research and consultation to understand transgender persons is a crucial part of the film. Here, the filmmakers have beautifully explained the concept of gender being in the mind and not in the body. I felt the learning phase seemed rushed and more like a fast forward. But remember this a Bollywood masala film and not any documentary, but it would have been great had they given some more screen time to this “learning about the Transgender person” phase of Manu.
Overall a good experience:
My biggest fear about this movie was triggering dialogues like I said before: “Main ladka thi fir ladki bani”. Pleasantly, the movie never showed such transphobia or misinformation that is typical of Bollywood. Maanvi consistently says that “I was born a girl, just in the wrong body without any fault of mine” and this is an accurate way to describe a transgender woman.
Another thing which I could relate to was when Manvi’s father says to her “Why should you be ashamed, you should be proud of yourself.” These were the exact lines my sister told me when I came out to her. Manvi’s character is that of a strong, independent and unapologetic transgender woman who has the full support of her father. But in reality, majority of transgender persons never get such kind of support from their families, but yes there are exceptions, like me and the character in this film.
Society has always portrayed transgender women in a typical way and when they meet a transgender woman like Manvi, they just cannot accept them. They prefer and want us to be submissive, apologetic and say sorry to every being all the time. The world wants transgender persons to live at their mercy. Bollywood is no different, it has also portrayed transgender women in the same stereotypical roles. Manvi breaks all these stereotypes. Despite its flaws, I had a good experience and did enjoy the movie. I cried with Manvi and laughed with her too.
Message to my trans community members:
To all transgender persons like me, if you are going to watch this movie, be prepared for its flaws and portrayal of transphobia. Please do not expect this to be a trans-awareness documentary. It is not even a movie made to compete with world cinema, but just a light-hearted film with good intentions and sincere efforts.
Well, we do not teach quantum physics to a 6-year child, do we? To me, it is the kind of movie that my sister can show to my extended family to help them understand and learn about me. Indian society is gradually learning and a light-hearted humorous tone to narrate a stigmatised story is the best way to start a conversation, in my opinion.
In my opinion, this film has definitely kickstarted conversations in Hindi-speaking households, the one our society is hiding from, and that my dear friends is the biggest takeaway we can ask for from this movie!
The film also spelt out two more messages loud and clear:
1. Gender is in the mind and not in the body.
2. If Manu Munjal can learn about gender and unlearn transphobia, well, then anyone can.
With this film, the film-makers have taken a genuine step and made an honest effort, and I appreciate that. Maybe next we will see transgender actors in central roles on the silver screen, hopefully soon. Like Anjali Ameer, remember? But, till then this is a start and the start is good, if you ask me.
Though I have not said much about Ayushmaan Khurana, everyone in the movie has done a commendable job, including Khurana, who is brilliant as a supporting character. Sorry (not sorry), but for me the movie is more about Manvi than anyone else. As a transgender woman, for the first time I saw a Bollywood movie that I could relate to, and so how can you expect me to talk about anything other than Manvi?
Kudos to the makers of Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui for an honest and hearty effort to bring the story of a transgender woman on the silver screen in a positive manner and, not to forget, with a happy ending. Life and struggles of every trans person is different and so is their opinion. Hoping Bollywood will make more such films with fewer mis-steps and cast transgender persons in transgender roles in the future.
Editors’s Note: This article was first published on The Outcast Collective.