I am not writing this post to talk about Shankar or his movie ‘I’. I just wanted to talk to you. After reading your letter to Shankar in Orinam, I wanted to shake your hands and cheer you up. Nature might have trapped your femininity inside a male body at the time of birth but the courage it takes to break barriers to establish the identity that you truly are astounds me. All of us in this patriarchal country are so accustomed to misogyny and hypocrisy and have accepted those as a part of our glorious culture. We, the so called men and women of this society think something, we say something else and then act totally different. Such pretense has become our second nature and we do that all the time without an iota of shame. Our movies take it a step further and ensure that we are never redeemed. We watch such movies, clap, and laugh and make them block-buster hits, encouraging the people in the movie business to make more of that kind. But, you folks have put your foot down and raised your voice. I am writing this here for you, up on my feet in standing ovation.
Let me tell you that you aren’t the only ones victimized in the movies, not just in Shankar’s ‘I’ but in many many many more for many many years. Almost all the movies in the Tamil movie industry are hero centric and I use the word hero instead of leading man because that is what our leading men of the movies are. They could be cast as local rowdies, womanizers, gangsters or just anything in the movie and still whatever it is they are, they are the good guys. In a society with nearly half women population, isn’t there even one story to be told with a central female character? Except for our late Balachander, I doubt if there are any other directors who have made at least a single movie with a “leading lady”. Basically, our country has given little voice to its women and our movies have conveniently used them as props and accessories.
The movie industry looks up to Hollywood for all its technology advancement but they fail to look more closely. Hollywood has equal number of movies with men and women leads. The heroes don’t preach culture and teach lessons to everyone and such preaching, if any, doesn’t become Vedas to the audience. People there love their actors too but they don’t worship them. Whereas in our country, the cut-outs of our heroes are bathed in milk while the babies of the slums die of malnutrition.
How many years? How many movies? ‘Pottai’ is not used to refer to transgender alone. ‘Pottai’ is used to refer to female gender too and whenever anyone in the movie isn’t capable of bravery, our movies call them pottai in the derogatory sense. From Visu to Rajini to Vijay to Surya to Simbu (the list is not exhaustive), every director and hero has taught women how to dress up, how be subservient and obedient, how men can walk all over their lives if they so much as put a toe-nail out of the line. A heroine who is bold and vibrant is somehow always tamed by the hero. Stalking women is totally alright there in the name of love and when the woman in question doesn’t reciprocate with love, the hero sings pathos, plying for pity and sympathy, while calling her names.
We women have watched those movies too and haven’t even twitched at such mention. Infact, just like men, we women too listen to those words in rapt attention and raise our sons and daughters with such notions as virtues. Inspite of being the second to majority in population (which by the way is skewed already because of the female feticide and preference for “male” child), many of us, women, don’t have the courage to stand up for ourselves. Not even within our families. Our love has been insulted too and our body parts have been shown and discussed with such vulgarity. Sexual innuendos and sexist jokes are made against us in almost every movie. To say we bear it all is an overstatement. Many of us aren’t even sensitive enough to realize that we are being humiliated on screen. We are not even aware of that. We enjoy such movies along with everyone else.
We, the women have difficulties in this country but that is nothing compared to the difficulties that you guys have faced and are facing here. Yet, you guys have stood up for yourselves, stood up and stood together to protest against the insensitive portrayal in Shankar’s movie, ‘I’. You have called in for support and won the sympathies of all of us. The fact that the director is a celebrated big budget movie maker didn’t stop you. The next time someone makes a movie, he or she will remember this protest and would be a little more careful and sensitive in crafting his project. You guys have done what we shameless women haven’t done. For that alone, I want to cheer you up a million times.
When I started this letter, I was wondering how to address you. I wasn’t comfortable with ‘Dear Sisters’ because that would mean demeaning your courage. Calling you sisters would mean including you among us, the shameless women who have put up with everything all along. I cannot call you ‘Dear Transgender’ just like how I cannot call a physically challenged person as ‘Dear Blind or Dear Deaf’. As I was searching for an apt word to address you, it hit me strongly that our inhuman society doesn’t have a word for you that isn’t bad. I was so disgusted and I had to use ‘Dear Sisters’ for the want of a better title. If this society is horrid enough for women folks, I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like for you. But you are surviving in this same society every day, fighting and triumphing and moving on to higher and higher positions in life, keeping your identity intact. My dears, you are the real heroines of this society. I salute you!