Debadrita Bose says, “We saw absolutely no reason why this couldn’t be done. In fact, it seemed to us that it was high time that this should be done. If cis women or cis men actors can so often play trans women, if straight actors can routinely play gay or bi characters, why not the other way round?”
The film itself is a mystery / thriller, and for the film financers and other commercial actors like Kamalika Banerjee and Shankar Chakraborty who are part of the cast, the inclusion of a trans woman in the cast seems to be important but not a defining element. I am informed that the final version of the script was arrived at after many track changes, internal arguments and creative differences, in which Sudeb contributed as much as any other member of the film team.
The focus has also not been on making an ‘arty’ sort of production. This does not mean that the film is a commercial and populist ‘Balaji type’ film. It has simply been a team decision to make the film more accessible and enjoyable than the usual arty film is seen to be. The idea has been to create greater appeal without compromising on the political stand and the quality of the work. And so, the story is of a party where the guests do not know the real reason for their invitations, where everyone is more or less drunk and behaves in rather politically incorrect ways. There is also an angle of murder in the film. Sounds like fun!
There is no ‘men are pigs and women are all pure-minded victims’ sub-text. Everyone is equally flawed and improper, regardless of gender. The film also includes clips of videos showing different movements of resistance from various parts of the world. This adds layers to the story, and is in tune with the film team’s desire to express solidarity with all marginalized movements, including but not limited to the queer movements.
For Sudeb, an amateur first-timer whose primary vocation is trans community mobilization, acting in a film with a cast full of professional and veteran actors has been challenging to say the least. She adds insightfully, “In a way, all our lives are acting, isn’t it? Especially for queer people and trans men and trans women. What I am and what I have to do to survive have never been the same. I have often acted out a male role, performed the male gender required from me by family, employers, society. So, in a way I think I had the acting skills already. But it has been a new experience to ‘act’ on camera, to a film script.”
“My logic is also that as an actor it is my job to portray any given role to the best of my ability,” Sudeb continues. “Just as a cis person, while playing a trans person’s character, taps their acting skills to do justice to the character, why can’t I, as a trans woman, do the same thing to play a cis woman?”
Moreover, if one looks at India’s folk arts, then persons assigned male at birth have often played female roles. Some or many of these actors may identify as trans women if asked or aware of the term. So Sudeb playing the role of a cis woman is quite in keeping with this tradition!
Arnab Bhattacharya, the film editor, chips in, “We have come this far and we won’t stop now. We’ll continue to make more films. And to do that, this one must reach people. We want people to see it, discuss it, argue about it, so that we get the courage to continue, and maybe inspire others to speak out.” The rest of the crew agrees. They feel a personal connect and it is a matter of pride for them. For many of them, the filmmaking process has helped them question their own understanding of gender and sexuality stereotypes. They are eager for the film to make a start with queer film festivals in India and then the festival circuit abroad.
It is also important to note the ‘when’ of this film. The film will see a release when queer people in India have finally been decriminalized. At the same time, a Bill on transgender rights is still in limbo and there is a growing atmosphere of forceful imposition of a ‘tailored’ culture of hetero-patriarchy on one and all. Artistic efforts that question these impositions become all the more important, and Goodbye Beautiful hopes to contribute to this objective through its own questioning of stereotypes.
About the main photo: Actor Sudeb at the film shooting location. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall