Taali to trash transgender taboo

Sushmita Sen first leading lady of Bollywood to portray transgender activist Gauri Sawant


October 20, 2022

/ By / New Delhi, India

Taali to trash transgender taboo

Sushmita Sen plays transgender activist Gauri Sawant in "Taali"(Photo - sushmitasen47/Instagram)

Taali, or a clap, is the first biopic made by Bollywood that portrays the life of a transgender and also the first where the role of a transgender is being played by a woman. It is the story of a transgender who goes on to adopt a child and be a single mother. Noted actress and former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen plays the lead role in the OTT series whose shooting is expected to begin soon.

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Gauri Sawant hit the national headlines in 2017 when her life and struggles were portrayed in an advertisement by pain balm brand Vicks, made by Procter & Gamble. In the film, Gauri’s adopted daughter Gayatri narrates the story of her mother’s life and how adoption changed her own life. Though at over 3 minutes it was rather a long ad-film, it became very popular and has been watched more than 9 million times since its release.

Struggles of early Life

Gauri Sawant was born as Ganesh into a middle-class family in Bhavanipeth, Pune, in 1989. Although biologically born as a boy, she struggled with her gender identity as she identified more close with women than men. As a result of her effeminate behavior, she did not have a pleasant childhood. Stereotype attitudes against transgenders were a big hindrance as she was teased by her own family members, let alone by the people of her own society. Things became worse after the demise of her mother at an early age. Despite loving her as a child, her policeman father did not accept her natural identity. Unwilling to disappoint her father and to find her true identity, she left her home.

“I had no idea where I would go or what I would do, but I knew I had to get away. The reason – I wanted to live as a woman,” Sawant said in  an interview with Femina magazine in 2021.

During her initial struggles, she came in contact with Humsafar Trust, a charitable organization advocating rights for transgenders, sex workers and the LGBTQ community in Mumbai.

From victim to activist

After years of association with Humsafar Trust, Sawant founded her own NGO, Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust in 2000, which also advocates for the causes of LGBTQs and sex workers. It promotes safe sex and offers counselling to transgender people and sex workers. One of its projects, Aajicha Ghar, aims to provide shelter for LGBTQ and sex workers.

Sh. Gauri Sawant

Gauri Sawant, Transgender Activist (Photo-@shreegaurisawant/Instagram)

In 2008, to fulfil her lifelong dream of attaining motherhood, Sawant adopted Gayatri, whose mother, a sex worker, had died of AIDS.

Besides running her NGO, Sawant has also been taking up causes of the marginalized communities, including moving the courts to ensure that their rights are respected. She was one of the petitioners in a 2014 case where the Supreme Court granted the status of third gender to transgender people. The top court acknowledged the ongoing violation of transgender people’s rights under Articles 14, 15, 16, 19, and 21 of the Constitution and also established several guidelines for state and central governments to follow in order to grant rights to transgender people, whom it deemed a marginalized and vulnerable minority.

Sawant has also filed another petition to guarantee the basic rights of the people of the LGBTQ community. She also led the crusade to get the Aadhar card for the LGBTQ community as the document is mandatory for beneficiaries of various government scheme.

Another famous cause championed by Sawant was for abolishing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which made the gay sex a punishable offence. In its order, while quashing the Section 377, the Supreme Court observed, “Section 377is irrational, arbitrary, and incomprehensible as it fetters the right to equality for the LGBT community, which possesses the same equality as other citizens.” This was an unprecedented victory for Sawant and the entire LGBTQ community.

In 2019, Gauri was appointed as the first transgender goodwill ambassador by the Election Commission of India in Maharashtra. She has also been attending several programmes and delivering her talks to raise awareness in society. The biopic has found favor with the transgender community in the country and transgender activists like Ram Prakash, who works with Delhi-based NGO Aarohan, welcome the change in the Bollywood where a woman would be portraying a transgender person, which has hitherto been done almost exclusively by men.

“Making a biopic on the inspirational life of a transgender person whose journey has witnessed numerous upheavals is a welcoming step taken by Bollywood. The portrayal of the lead role by Sushmita Sen will help in breaking the pertinent stereotypes associated with transgenders,” Prakash tells Media India Group.

For activists like Prakash and for the transgender community per se, Gauri’s success story is the manifestation of her unquantifiable struggle, resilience, and indomitable will-power. From getting discarded by the family to becoming the hope of the hopeless, she has become an epitome of perseverance and success. Now, they are waiting to see how Bollywood gives life to her story on the screen.



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