How demonizing trans people as a plot twist is harmful

By Meghna Mehra

We all consume media in one way or another and it is a known fact that it shapes our world view. In 2004, Murder-2 popularized the “trans villain” plot line which has further stigmatised a community which is often misunderstood, judged and scrutinized widely. The movie begins with murder of a cis gender woman by a trans woman.

The othering of transwomen

Often, transwomen characters are played by cis gender men which increases the misconception and stereotypes about transwomen. When it comes to representation of transmen, the media is totally forgetting their existence. The harmful stereotypes perpetuated by movies and daily soaps have created further misconceptions that one can see by few examples like Murder 2. Here, they show the character as,”a man who is unable to control his urges”. The character is referred as a woman only by a fellow transwoman who happens to be her guru. They character was poorly written depicted trans people as evil, well-connected individuals who can harm their own people too. As the character murders her guru when her guru asks her if she has committed a crime, it becomes clear that the purpose of this character wasn’t representation but just demonizing a community.

Actor Prashant Narayan in Murder 2 (image via India Times)

Apart from murder-2, recently, a daily soap called,”yeh hai chahatein” have shown a character as trans. However, the character is played by a cis gender man and the trans identity has been used as a “secret which is shocking”. The character has been shown dancing to a song and a child recording the performance secretly. The person is referred as a man throughout the series after the revealing of trans plot line. The character then kidnaps the child to hide their “secret” which clearly brings up the old demonizing of trans community.

Either villain or a punchline: The horrors of misrepresentation

In the bollywood movie, kya cool hain hum, bobby darling’s character Kiran has been used as a punchline which further stigmatized the community. There are many scenes where the character’s gender identity has been joked about. This is not the first time that bollywood has stereotyped and used trans characters for punchlines. In the movie Badmash Company, there is a scene where Vir Das is approached by a woman in Thailand and he goes to her room. He was seen running outside from the woman’s room after few minutes and screaming,”woh ladka hai” (He is a man) to which Shahid Kapoor and Miang Chang’s character respond by running along with him to hide in another room. This normalizes misgendering of trans individuals and reduce womxn to their genitals.

The message from bollywood is clear, either trans characters will be evil or they will be used to add humour. Both of these depictions are rooted in transphobia causing further backlash, stigma, lack of acceptance for trans, intersex, hijra community in India. It is also notable that most of the time these characters are played by cis gender men and rarely by trans actors leading to problems.

Recently, a debate started with Akshay Kumar’s role in Laxmi Bomb. The question was simple- if we have trans characters in the script, why cis people are playing the role of trans people? But this is not the only debate. Another debate is- Why can’t Bollywood and television industry focus on showing the trans community in a healthy manner? Reducing them to the boxes of evil or funny is dehumanizing.