When transwoman and theatre artiste Living Smile Vidya watched the premiere of the Kannada film Naan Avanalla Avalu , she wept. It brought back dark memories she’d buried deep in her heart and peeled the scab off her wounds. After all, it was her life on screen. The film, which went on to win two National Awards last year — best actor for Sanchari Vijay and best make-up for Raju and Nagaraj — was based on her autobiography Naan Saravanan Illai, Vidya , which details the struggles of a transwoman. “When I watched it the second time, I was more composed. I loved the sensitivity that the director and actors have displayed while recreating my life,” says Vidya.
The film’s director B.S. Lingadevaru approached Vidya after reading the Kannada translation of her book by Tamil Selvi — it bagged the Sahitya Akademi Award for Best Translation (Kannada) in 2011. “I was initially hesitant. I wondered if they would be able to aesthetically shoot a movie on this topic, or even manage to get it funded. But, he convinced me. My only condition was that my character must be played by a transwoman. The director tried his best, but finally roped in Sanchari Vijay. I once saw him on the sets, and was amazed at how similar certain features were. And, I’ll proudly say that his performance was spot-on,” recalls Vidya.
The film recently released in Bangalore and the director hopes to showcase it in Chennai too. Vidya, too, is trying her best to screen it here, so that people get to see a realistic, sensitive take on the lives of transgenders. “At a time when big filmmakers are being callous about our emotions, it is heartening that director Lingadevaru kept his word and my dignity intact,” she says.
The team also worked to keep the look as authentic as possible. “Vijay actually begged in Pune; no one even suspected it was a film crew! That kind of dedication is rare,” she says.
Vidya, who has created a play, Colour of Trans , along with her friends in Panmai, a theatre group run by transgenders, hopes that if the film is screened often, perceptions might change.
The film is also very special for Vidya, because the day the National Awards were announced (a day before her birthday), she managed to find a home to live in. “That’s a huge victory. It somehow convinced me that this year will be good, and I could not have asked for a better birthday gift,” she smiles.