Media commentary that has been in praise of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s tendency to “cross-dress” on-screen has spoken about how, through such characters, he seeks to remove the element of masculinity associated with evil and malice. However, one look at the K-serials in India and complex-ly written non-masc characters through cinematic history, shows that evil and malice are gender-less.
However, what Siddiqui’s characters are indeed doing, is associating traits of manipulation and evil with the identity of the trans-women, whose womanhood is still widely unacknowledged, thereby causing immense pain to the individual as well as the community.
It cannot also be seen in isolation, when mainstream Indian cinema has a history of seeing the trans-woman as hoodwinking the cis-Woman community as well as the cis-Man. Neither can Siddiqui’s characters be construed as drag performers, since drag culture is deeply congnizant of the imposition of the binary gender imposition and its relationship with biological sex and genital aesthetics. In response to this seriousness, drag is playful about its interpretation of gender without conflating it with any kind of personality, especially not one that causes pain.
Siddiqui’s choice of roles as Laila in Heropanti 2 and in Haddi, as well as the media’s review of them, shows a culture that is deeply out of touch with gender theory and its production in our culture, accompanied by a hollow performativeness of allyship that is really to the detriment of human rights for all.