The Time I Played a Transgender
In the year 2013, the Indian Cinemas had completed 100 years. The theme for the annual function of the school for the current year was “100 years of Indian Cinemas”. Hemant Utsav is the name of the annual event held at one of the biggest auditoriums in Telangana, Shilpakala Vedika, located in Hyderabad. Every single person in the school participates to make this special event successful (Approximate School Strength = 600–650). I was in grade 8. This was the second time I was going to be a part of the event.
I was still overcoming many difficulties like language barriers and bullying since joining the school in grade 7. I have described them in detail in the ‘How I learned a new language?’ blog written a while ago. Do check it out. In the current year, things were better but not yet solved. The practice for Hemanth Utsav started a month before the event. Teachers and selected students planned the event and prepared the scripts in coordination with Vinayaka sir (Schools Director and CEO). Students were randomly selected for roles that have few acting skills requirements. We as kids got divided into roles and had to take the role as guided by the teachers.
I got the role in a short scene of the drama and another role two other scenes apart in dance on song Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire. I was okay with the role I got without realizing the part I had to play in the skit (drama). The practices began for the event in groups based on different skits. We were not called upon the stage for about the first four practice sessions. I sat and enjoyed my time chit-chatting and passing the time with others who were given the role. I was still not fully aware of the role.
Finally, the teacher-in-charge called us on the stage and explained the role we would be playing. The role was of the person in Kamathipura who runs behind the protagonist with their footwear in hand to lure him away. I did not know what Kamathipura was and still had only a little clarity on the role. After a couple of practice sessions, I started learning about the role and realized I was playing the role of a transgender sex worker in Kamatipura. It is the second-largest red-light area in India located in Mumbai. It was very disturbing and took some time for me to digest what was going on.
There were very few people who knew the roles that people played as we practiced in groups. I went to the teacher-in-charge of our skit and talked to him about quitting the role as I was not comfortable doing it but he refused. He said “You should have quit the day you got the role, now it is too late as everyone has their roles fixed. We cannot do anything about it.” The future that I had predicted was horrible so I asked them again with my eyes filled with tears. I predicted everyone who knew calling me names making things worse that had got better. The teacher told me “Look Purvil, there is nothing big in the role and you are just the side character, you have to stand on the stage and come back. That’s it. You should look up to the person playing the main role. He is playing the role with outstanding acting and open-mindedness.” The teacher convinced me to keep my spirits up and continue the role.
We could call home once a week. I never told my parents about the exact role I was playing. There is a proper studio voice recording created for all skits with selected students traveling to a studio in Hyderabad. The recorded audio is then edited for adding proper breaks, background music, and other necessary pauses in the skit. The practice sessions become rigorous as days pass. Practice sessions take place in the evening for about the first 20 days. The groups come together a week before the final day to replicate the original event in practice. Using Studio-made audio for practice sessions starts after the recordings are ready. The classes are suspended a week ahead of the event. Everyone practices the whole day when there are four days left for the event. It is Fun, Relaxing, Tiring, and Boring at the same time.
Just as I was confused about the roles some of my other classmates too were. They did not know what role I played. But last four days to the event everyone knew which scared me of what the impact would be of that after the event. While Practices people were either very busy to practice or very bored as it was the same thing going on for hours. People did not care much as everyone played their part and relaxed doing some other activity and came back for their role again. We went for lunch in batches according to our part in the play. There was less interaction and more work which made it the fastest time to pass.
On the day of the event, we woke up at 4:00 am and started from the school at 5:30. After reaching at 7:00 we had our rehearsal on the stage once with all the props and as realistic as it would be except costumes. This rehearsal finished at around 1:00 in the afternoon. After the rehearsal we had lunch. Finally, everyone starts getting ready for the skits in their costumes with the help of designers. Make-up is also done for everyone in the skits.
The designers gave me a Saree and other things as my costume and told me to wait in a small room with other people who played the transgender role with me. I was nervous as 2 or three people asked about the costume. In surprise with a depressed smile, I told them that this is what we are supposed to wear for the role. The designers came to help us with the costumes. I was the second to get dressed but, in the meantime, my mom came to see me in the room. I broke down with tears in my eyes as soon as I saw her. She was clueless and asked me everything. She told me to wear my shirt and go along with her to talk to Vinayaka sir. She told me that I will not do the role if I do not like it. We left the room and went to him to speak about it.
We met Vinayaka sir on the stairs and my mom told him that I am not comfortable doing the role. He asked my mom about the role but she could not tell what kind of role. I told him about the role and he asked me, “So what is the problem in doing it? It is just a role.” My mother told him again that he is not comfortable doing it. He said, “I give you a choice now, either you do the role and play your part which is very easy or you leave the school and do not return after the holidays are over. It is totally onto you. Do not come back to me to speak on this any further.” and he walked away.
Now the choice given to me was worse than the one I had but my mother told me it is okay if you do not want to do the role and leave the school. There are many schools where we can admit you to in our hometown. I again started crying even more helpless while everyone from my town along with my mom and dad was consoling me. Everyone told me to do it as it was just a matter of a simple role but my mom was not happy looking at me in that condition. She calmed me by explaining to me all the ways out of the situation if I leave the school and told me to stop crying first. I stopped and thought of the chances I could take in immense pressure. It became clear to me that I would not like to leave the school at any cost so I made up my mind to play the role. My mother and father asked me again if I had made up my mind to do the role telling me to drop it if I was not comfortable. I had made up the decision to do it and was firm on it now.
My parents hugged me tight with tears in my mothers' eyes while sending me downstairs to get ready while again asking me if I was okay. I rubbed the tears on her cheeks telling her to stop crying. I told her I am okay and I am going to do the role and get done with it. While getting ready I thought of the guy performing the main role and the tears in my mothers’ eyes before leaving them. I thought to myself that if I could have been a bit stronger, I would have not spoilt my mothers' mood as she met me after so long and made a fuss out of it. I somehow controlled my sadness and cheered myself to finally do the role.
When on stage I stood there dressed up as a transgender looking at the main guy perform his role as a trans. He acted exactly as a transgender with audience cheering for his performance. I started admiring him. I realised I was wrong the whole time and played my part of running behind the protagonist laughing at myself with the slipper. In no time the role was over. While returning backstage I started speaking to myself that for this short role of 5 minutes I had been crying and overthinking. I was happy on getting over with the role. The realisations and the role gave me courage. I was ready for whatever was going to be the circumstances which had no value in front of me leaving the school, be it bullying, teasing or whatever negative that could happen.
I quickly went downstairs to change for the dance. I came back and danced in true joy making all the noise disappear and forgetting for a moment about the role. After the dance, I changed and went back to my parents and people from my hometown who was accompanying my parents. Those people appreciated me and said you were good and courageous on stage, do not worry now everything is all right. My parents also felt better after looking at me, happy, relieved and little confident as it was all over.
After the 10 days’ vacation, I went back to the school where I met Vinayaka sir and he asked my parents, “How is he now? Is everything alright?” with a smile that conveyed I had made a good decision. Everyone in my class now knew the incident and nobody ever spoke of the incident again. I was very glad that this did not turn into what I had predicted. This experience was a roller coaster ride with a lot of learnings.
Until next time,
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