Art + Photo Essay Reviews

‘Truth Dream’: Seeing Older, Trans* People Live Out Their Dreams

No, it is much more. It is a project at the intersections of love, dreams, and all that they stand for. It enabled the trans people involved in it to think about their childhood dreams and unfulfilled longings.

On what turned out to be a busy day at work, I rushed to catch the opening of “Truth Dream” in Bengaluru. As I entered the premises of Bangalore International Centre, I was struck by the photos of Bernie.

They looked dashingly handsome: moustachioed, besuited and wearing a cowboy hat in a couple of the photos. Props to Jaisingh Nageswaran, the photographer, for effortlessly conveying what the project is about through his photographs.

All these photos, which were clicked against exquisite backdrops—water bodies, a temple, an open space full of lush greenery—were on display. The personalised, hand painted, 8×10 feet backdrops set the mood for the dreamscapes of the trans* models, featured in the photos.

The 12 trans and gender non-conforming models are old. No, I don’t mean this as an ageist comment. I am simply remarking that I am talking about some of our tran-cestors. They have paved the path for trans youngsters like myself, by daring to be, live, exist.

“It’s hard to determine their exact age,” said Angarika G from Maraa, tellingly. The Maraa Collective curated the project and brought together a team of collaborators (photographer, costume designer, makeup artist etc.) to make it happen.

The trans* models were too busy living to find the space to dream. This is not to say that they haven’t achieved their goals, but one could argue that the realms of dreams and goals are not the same.

What is Truth Dream? A photo exhibition? Maybe, the film documenting the photoshoot? Perhaps, the book (Kannadi, which means mirror or lens) which contains the lives and struggles of the 12 trans elders? Definitely the ramp walk and dance extravaganzas we saw on stage, right?

No, it is much more. It is a project at the intersections of love, dreams, and all that they stand for. It enabled the trans people involved in it to think about their childhood dreams and unfulfilled longings.

Not only that, it gave them the stage to come together and live out a part of those incredible dreams. Many of them were getting to act out some of their fantasies for the very first time.

Getting one’s hair and makeup done by a professional, before one poses in front of a camera, might be an everyday event for a fashion model. But, some of these trans* models were ridiculed for desiring these very things… And also, for desiring others and for wanting to be considered desirable themselves.

The witty hostess, who presented herself to us as “modern Shakuntala” during the opening, was Chandni, the founder of Payana, an NGO that works for the protection of sexual minorities.

She talks about her own delight at having posed as Shakuntala, in Kannadi (aptly titled, as the word means mirror in Kannada and Tamil both):

“When I looked at my photos, I felt that yes, I am Shankuntala indeed—the costume I wore, the flowers in my hair, the lotus that bloomed in the backdrop, the way I posed—these were all a part of my dreams since I was a young boy, which only got fulfilled after 30 years.”

Truth Dream was the brainchild of Chandni. Her passion shone through the BIC auditorium like the full moon on a heady night. I understood a lot of what she was saying despite being an average, “nanage Kannada gothila” maga (an ‘I-don’t-know-Kannada’ dude) otherwise.

Dreams don’t have a language, do they? They can be elusive though. And yet, the dance performances on stage suggested otherwise. For those five-odd minutes, we were living Bhanamma’s dream with her, as she pranced around like Jayamalini, playing with a soft toy bunny.

She was recreating, nay reimagining, a famous Kannada song from yesteryears – Muddu Ranghayya Baro Channayya. Some of the dreamscapes were mythical and divine, others were full of glamour, while yet others were about the mundanely magical (like wearing a suit).

“I never wanted to look like anyone else—I just wanted to be me,” Bernie had confessed to Chandni. As universal as they can be, dreams are also uniquely personal.

We saw Shakuntala on stage, yes. But, we also saw Sridevi. We saw the goddess Andal. We also saw Radha. We saw Shiva in his Ardhanarishvara (synthesis of masculine and feminine) form.

Everyone had a dream to share, a barrier to overcome, a fantasy to live and an audience to entertain. I was enraptured and I know I wasn’t the only one.

As Chandni puts it in Kannadi:

“We need to destroy the notion that beauty disappears once we grow old. Refusing to measure beauty through superficial standards of fair skin and body weight, we have joined our hands to celebrate our beauty with pride.”

Despite receiving international support from the Fund for Global Human Rights and the Human Capability Foundation, Maraa thought it was important to crowdfund “to ensure participation and commitment from the wider public, in bringing this dream to life,” explained Angarika over email.

Their campaign was successful. They were able to raise ₹6 lakh. While they did have the backing of a network of supporters and well-wishers, they also received support from many new allies who helped them realise this dream.

Maraa hopes to travel with the exhibition to 23 districts of Karnataka. They are also applying to national and international photo festivals.

The third wave of the pandemic might have put everyone’s plans on hold, but one can only hope that Truth Dream receives the audience it deserves.


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