What distinguishes Taali is that it is one of the first biographical works that focuses on the challenges and life of a transgender person, therefore providing a glimpse into their tough lives from their own perspective.
Taali is a biographical drama series based on the life of Shree Gauri Sawant, a transgender activist played by Sushmita Sen. The series, directed by Ravi Jadhav, lasts for three hours and is broken into six thirty-minute parts. It is available on the Jio Cinema platform in India. I was thrilled to watch the show after watching the teaser for the first time and being aware of the real-life inspiration. While inclusion of the LGBTQA+ population in mainstream films and series has expanded recently, there are a few that highlight the realities of the transgender community, such as – Laxmii, Super Deluxe.
What distinguishes Taali is that it is one of the first biographical works that focuses on the challenges and life of a transgender person, therefore providing a glimpse into their tough lives from their own perspective. Many notable biopics based on the lives of athletes, freedom fighters, army officers have been produced by the film industry. Taali thus adds a feather to the cap because it is innovative in its approach to raising awareness and praising the efforts of many such activists who seek to improve the status of the Third gender in India. This is certainly one of the most compelling reasons to watch this series.
Before we go any further, here is a quick summary of the transgender activist as to why she is remarkable –
Shree Gauri Savant is a transgender activist from Mumbai who has been working diligently for the transgender community for many years. Gauri established the Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust in 2000. The NGO encourages safe sex and offers transsexual counselling. In 2014, she was the first transgender person to petition the Supreme Court of India for transgender adoption rights. She was a petitioner in the case of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), in which the Supreme Court declared transgender as a third gender. She also starred in an affectionate Vicks commercial and in Kaun Banega Crorepati. In 2019, she was appointed as the Maharashtra Election Commission’s goodwill ambassador.
Taali, focusing on the Supreme Court’s watershed decision in 2014, which officially recognized the third gender, It flashes back and forth in time to Gauri Sawant’s life, from her days as a child battling with identity to her days as a mother advocating for equality. The show seeks to cover major events in her life, such as her childhood and troubles with her father, gender affirming surgery, adopting a child, and handling the atrocities of the society. In the first episode, named Teesri ladai, she explains how her battle is separated into three stages: struggle for identity, struggle for survival, and struggle for equality, with the final one referring to the Landmark Case.
Krutika Deo’s performance as Young Gauri, known as Ganesh, helped viewers connect to the character’s predicament of feeling unfit. Her desire to be a mother, which no one around her understands, her loneliness after her mother passed away and her father’s reluctance to accept her identity are all major points where the audience can relate to the helplessness faced by young Gauri trapped in the body of a boy, wishing to be a girl.
Sushmita Sen, who plays a grown-up Gauri, does a fantastic job in the part. Her performance was a combination of grace and aggression, accurately calibrated to the necessities of the scene. Sen is depicted in the story’s midsection, where Gauri works with an NGO and as a waiter to earn and teach at the same time. These were the rare sequences where Sen seemed out of place in huge Kurtas, shirt trousers and even a fake moustache.
The story progresses from her days of survival to finally founding her own non-profit organization, dealing with other transgender people. The affection and warmth between Gauri and her new family could be seen in these specific scenes. Sheetal Kale’s performance as Nargis, a fellow transgender, was another highlight for me. Her friendship with Gauri, from once saving her life to presenting her a neckless that Gauri tressures as a trophy, are heartwarming experiences that will also have an impact on Gauri’s life.
Aside from the impressive performances, the show had its own set of flaws. To begin, despite the fact that the show drew out Gauri’s life across six episodes, it failed to give greater space to crucial moments that required more creativity, more time for viewers to absorb it and appreciate the depth of it. Factors such as Gauri’s transformation as a mother and her struggle to gain support from her own community were mentioned but not adequately developed. There are several situations in which Gauri faces adversity and hatred from members of her own community who believe that her work is harming their daily lives, even to the point where a fellow transgender tries to poison Gauri. However, these scenes are addressed with dialogues such as Mere paas na dushmano ki directory nahi dictionary milegi (you won’t either the directory or the dictionary of enemies with me) or inhone mera makeup kiya hai mei inka pack up karwati hoon (they did my makeup, I will do their pack up).
What was missing was a genuine confrontation moment to really show why many transgender people believed Gauri’s work was harming them, and it could’ve led the viewers to the real issue of why many of them are resistant to these changes. This alternate perspective was not properly explored.
Another letdown was the addition of sequences that felt like an attempt to inject some drama into the show. Scene of Gauri celebrating the commencement of her womanhood while dressed as a bride, was paralleled by her father performing Ganesh’s final rites. This was done to symbolically represent Gauri’s father’s reluctance to embrace her new reality. Instead of this addition, it would have been good to devote more screen time to Gauri’s metamorphosis.
Other attempts at eliciting emotions were made with background music and almost poetic dialogues. It seemed as though Gauri’s every response was designed to be an inspiring statement. Gauri’s more open exchanges with people, such as the flight attendant on a trip to the United States or the school principal, were much appreciated.
Taali provided to the audience something that they had already seen on the internet and in the news. There was a lack of artistically narrating the story so that viewers could better comprehend the perspectives of the third gender. Taali remains an amazing first-of-its-kind biopic packed with a number of profound performances, and we hope that mainstream cinema brings out more work of such activists while providing LGBTQ people the opportunity to play these parts.
Featured Image Credits: JioCinema