Taali explores complex narratives of gender identity, societal reflections
The series depicts the early life of Gauri born as Ganesh Sawant, his journey to embrace womanhood and become ‘her’ against all odds. Loathed by her own father, misunderstood by loved ones, she had to fight for her identity and survival from a very early age
Sushmita Sen's most recent web series, 'Taali,' had its premiere on ZioCinema on the 15 August. While it might not fulfill the expectations of being a jaw-dropping artistic marvel, it does succeed in evoking a sense of introspection, leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions. The web series is a biopic of Mumbai based transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant.
She is a distinguished advocate for transgender rights and a devoted social worker. In 2014, she played a pivotal role as a petitioner in a groundbreaking ruling issued by the Indian Supreme Court. This landmark decision bestowed legal recognition upon transgender individuals, granting them a comprehensive array of civil liberties and protective measures.
The series depicts the early life of Gauri born as Ganesh Sawant, his journey to embrace womanhood and become ‘her’ against all odds. Loathed by her own father, misunderstood by loved ones, she had to fight for her identity and survival from a very early age.
A significant flaw within the storyline, particularly evident to those familiar with Shreegauri Sawant from her various interviews and TedX speech, is that it fails to thoroughly explore the trauma and hardships she endured during her formative years
The narrative details of Gauri Sawant's life are already well-known to the public. However, the retelling in "Taali" doesn't appear superfluous, given that the series serves a purpose beyond repetition. It effectively contributes to raising awareness about the ambitions and dreams of the third gender, thus working to counteract misconceptions that have historically denied them the respect and recognition they are entitled to as full-fledged members of a free society.
All of us at some point in our life felt uncomfortable to see a transgender person approaching us on the traffic signal. We scoff as scoffed Gauri aka Ganesh’s classmates when he said he wanted to become a mother. The series will repeatedly bring forth the question ‘is womanhood so despicable?”.
In a poignant moment, Ganesh as a schoolboy takes part in a dance during a Marathi festival while adorned in a saree. However, his father intervenes, escorting him home and uttering, "I don't mind whatever you choose to be or not to be, but please, never dress up as a girl again..." This situation prompts introspection, making one contemplate why the notion of being a woman or desiring to embrace womanhood is regarded with such disdain.
A significant flaw within the storyline, particularly evident to those familiar with Shreegauri Sawant from her various interviews and TedX speech, is that it fails to thoroughly explore the trauma and hardships she endured during her formative years. However, the narrative does manage to communicate a few messages with great clarity.
One of those messages contradicts the prevailing narrative that the transgender community is entangled in criminal activities, sex trafficking, and coercive money collection. The story unequivocally conveys that they sometimes try to hurt us because they themselves have suffered immensely, and their abusive actions stem from the abuse they have endured throughout their lives.
The drama also prompts us, the self-proclaimed "normal" people, to engage in introspection and reevaluate our behaviors and attitudes towards individuals who don't conform to the typical gender binary.
Krutika Deo portraying Ganesh pulls of the character remarkably as he tries to make his father, who is a police officer, understand his situation. The storyline follows his escape to Mumbai and culminates at a pivotal juncture where Ganesh's evolution into Gauri is marked by a transformative sex-change procedure. Eventually, as the narrative unfolds, Gauri finds her peace in her true identity and grows comfortable in her own skin.
This is the point as an audience you deeply sense the profound hardships that a transgender individual must endure, to the extent of undergoing the removal of a body organ solely to attain the authenticity of their true self.
We see Shreegauri (Sushmita Sen) makes friends and foes throughout her journey. We witness the confidence gleaming in her eyes when she delivers the line, "Gali ke ladaai aakhir Delhi tak pahuch hi gayi (The battle that began in the narrow alley has finally reached the capital, Delhi)," or as she firmly rebuts those who label transgender individuals as 'scary’ by responding, "Jiss desh mein kutton tak ka census hota hain par transgender ka nahi... aisa desh mein aap logon ke beech mein jeena that is scary. (In a country where even dogs are counted in the census, but not transgender people... living among people like you in such a country, that is what's truly scary)."
With the exception of a few instances of exaggerated and overly dramatic dialogue, director Ravi Jadhav has effectively upheld the essence of the narrative, considering the limitations of a relatively short web series that naturally cannot encompass every detail.
Sushmita Sen did her best to pull off the character and she succeeded to an extent. The lead actor's ability to seamlessly embody the intricate character with both poise and energy deserves wholehearted admiration and applause.
She adeptly depicted the resilience of Shreegauri's character with eloquent lines such as, "apne to badalte rehte hain. Aur dhokey? woh bhi miltey rehte hain (people change and betrayal is common)."
Yet the overall story appears to be a little inert, as the transgender people go through immense sufferings such as facing sexual and police abuse, going through unspeakable stigma imposed by the society. The drama fails to encompass physiological trauma, inner compulsion, the struggle with themselves and society.
With Ravi Jadhav's established reputation for meticulous narrative intricacies and bold storytelling, as evidenced in works like "Natarang," "Nude," and the short film "Mitraa," my expectations as a viewer were higher naturally.
On the whole, "Taali" emerges as a captivating and thought-provoking watch, punctuated by moments that also induce a sense of disquiet. Imagine a situation where someone identifies as a woman but is biologically male – this concept of a female essence trapped within a male body is like a powerful image of inner struggle. It feels as if emotions are being stifled, creating an intense feeling of suffocation and fear.