It’s not easy being a woman in India, let alone a transsexual one. The male-to-female transgender community has existed in the country for centuries, and their members are commonly described Hijras. Unfortunately, they are still outcasts even today. It is virtually impossible for them to find a job, and they almost inevitably have to resort to either begging on prostitution on the streets of a large city.
Inspired by a real story, Madesha (Sanchari Vijay) is an educated and effeminate boy from rural Karnataka – they speak the Kannada language, little known to Europeans. From a very young age, he cherishes his female persona and gorgeous saris and bindis. His sister enjoys his natural flair and joy. After completing his studies, he moves to Bangalore in search of acceptance and a castration surgery known as Nirvana. He is undaunted, despite knowing that the options for transsexuals are very limited. Not long after the sex change, Madesha – now called Vidya – decides to return home despite knowing that there too she will face enormous obstacles towards acceptance, work and social integration.
Naanu Avanalla Avalu is a technically accomplished film, with exuberant photography of both rural and urban India. The make-up and the costume of the all-dancing Hijras also help to lift up the spirits of this tragedy of social exclusion. The girls are very camp, jolly and lively, despite the adversities that they consistently face. The film also has a lot of music, and the acting is overtly melodramatic and extravagant, in good old-fashioned Bollywood style.
The energetic rhythm of the movie is well-suited to the trans girls because cross-dressing is so intimately connected to dancing, fancy and flashy clothing. It’s also a suitable tribute to a highly marginalised community, that only received legal recognition in 2014 when the “third sex” became established in Indian law. Paradoxically, the sex-reassignment surgery is still illegal. Vidya’s Nirvana is performed in a backstreet clinic with the walls covered in graffiti, litter on the ground and a sink full of blood – making the surgeries of the “Danish girl” Lili Elbe seem ultra hygienic and high-tech.
Westerns audiences used to very audacious and graphic LGBT movies may this film a little timid: the girls never engage in romance and not even a singled kiss is featured. Their sexuality seems strangely devoid of sex. The boisterous Bollywood-style narrative could also be awkward to those not used to the fanciful pulse of such movies.
Naanu Avanalla Avalu is part of the London Indian Film Festival taking place this week – just click here for more information about the event.