That trans persons needing a cisgender heterosexual man and actor to be our saviour, and speak for us is 'progressive' and 'much needed' is something I have never understood. In Laxmii, a cisgender man, Akshay Kumar, is occupied by the ghost of a trans woman, who is portrayed by another cisgender man, Sharad Kelkar. Both of them get the most amount of screen time, while the trans persons in the movie either remain a visual or a part of the extra crew, and are given dialogues for less than 5 mins in a 120+ minute movie. Is this empowerment or appropriation? No one reminded the makers to pass on the mic?
A politician in the movie says, "You didn't tell me [Laxmii] is Kinnar. Do you know what a big sin we committed? Her curse could've turned our lives into hell." This line best represents what the film is entirely couched in- a cisgender transphobic gaze. While the movie claims to be in the horror-comedy genre, what it does is try to evoke fear and laughter at the expense of trans persons. The entire song, 'Bum Bhole', is about inducing fear using religion when one sees a trans person. Is this supposed to show our community in a positive light?
Laxmii is shown as a person who fights back with violence. She beats anyone who tries to grab her land. Even after her death, she comes back to avenge her loss in the most violent of ways. A trans woman who is a ghost baying for someone's blood, is licking the blood using her tongue when the rituals are performed. What kind of defaming, fear-inducing symbolism is being made out of the color red, and being attached to a trans person? That we are someone to be afraid of, until people discover our sad, tear-jerker backstory? What if we don't have such a backstory?
The English subtitle for Hijra is 'Eunuch', a word couched in transphobia. It's a word that others have given us to dehumanize us and reduce us to our genitalia.
At no point does the movie redeem itself from the transphobic gaze of the family when Asif wears haldi, bangles, and sarees. This is the family's worst nightmare. Many who watch the visuals will end up absorbing this. Did the movie even attempt to show the crossdressing man with humanity? Then how is the image of Akshay Kumar wearing sarees positive? What assumption do you wish to drive home- that a man wearing any of these is essentially creepy to everyone else and might be possessed by a trans person's ghost? That it can be warded off by taking the person to an exorcist? Is this trans empowerment or superstition?
A young Laxmii is told, "From today you are not Laxman Sharma but Laxmii Sharma". The Tamil movie it is a remake of, Kanchana, did not mention her caste while showing her name change, which the Hindi movie does. What does this say about a movie and its makers who claim to be empowering us? That even if we are transgender persons, even if our families throw us out, we would be marked by our caste singularly? How different is this from the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which has been criticised widely, which in Section 7(3) allows us to change only our first name, not our whole name?
The English subtitle for Hijra is 'Eunuch', a word couched in transphobia. It's a word that others have given us to dehumanize us and reduce us to our genitalia. Have the makers bothered to translate Hijra to transgender person? No.
When I was watching Akshay Kumar's saree draping scene in the shop, after he was possessed, I am sorry I didn't feel empowered. I got flashbacks of me being bullied by my cisgender classmates, relatives and colleagues. The way Akshay was trying to act 'feminine', the movement of the hands, the neck, the body posture were precisely the ways in which cis men and women have tried to imitate and mock my expressions all these years. It is not empowerment, it is a stereotypical, transphobic imitation, and a bad one at that. It's important to quote Jen Richards from the Netflix documentary Disclosure here, "…but it reduces that person… to a performance of transness, to a performance of femininity, rather than as a whole person, of whom transness is one aspect of".
So, what is it that the audience is being told? Why is horror and comedy being made at our expense and on our bodies?