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Vikas Khanna On Why He Didn’t Dress Up A Man In A Saree To Play The Role Of A Eunuch In His Film

  • IWB Post
  •  September 16, 2019

Update: Neena Gupta’s film with Vikas Khanna, The Last Color has won the Best Feature Film and Best Actress award at the Indian International Film Festival of Boston.

From cooking to directing a film, Michelin-star Chef Vikas Khanna has made a giant leap from one art to another. With his directorial debut, The Last Color, which is based on a book of the same name that he wrote some years ago, the film starring veteran actor Neena Gupta, a child artist and a trans woman, revolves around the Supreme Court order against an age-old tradition of not allowing widows in Vrindavan to play Holi.

The film that was earlier screened at the 13th Annual Dallas International Film Festival, after its teaser was showcased at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and at the annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, kicked off the Austin-based South Asian film festival Indie Meme Film Festival on April 26. With its screening held at various festivals all over the U.S., Vikas in a recent Instagram post shared about his choice of casting Rudrani, a trans woman activist who also runs India’s first transgender modeling agency and plays Chhoti’s friend and protector “Anarkali” in The Last Color.

As the The Last Color is screening at festivals all over the U.S., I sometimes field questions about my choice of casting RUDRANI @rudrani786 -an Indian hijra (transgender) in the film. Rudrani, an activist who also runs India’s first transgender modeling agency plays Chhoti’s friend and protector “Anarkali” in The Last Color. Why didn’t you just dress a man up in a saree to play the hijra role? some ask. To me such a decision seemed contrived and I recalled how people of color or certain castes or cultures or sexes have historically been disallowed from portraying their own in films. Hence, while I was developing The Last Color screenplay, it was my good fortune to meet Ashok ji. Ashok is a hijra I met while doing research along the Banaras riverbank. In fact, she lived there. What awed me about Ashok was her sheer courage in protecting street kids from predators, sleepless morning to sleepless night-basically risking her life. The care this already vulnerable member of society showed for these even more vulnerable members of society made her a true mother goddess to them, and to me. I get so emotional just writing about her. Such inspiration and feeling compelled me to cast a hijra in the hijra role. When I had the pleasure of meeting Rudrani during auditions, I was equally moved by this miracle child and voice-of-the-silenced-souls’ social activism, fearless energy, and eagerness to contribute. Like Ashok did with her flock of at-risk kids on the banks of Ganga, Rudrani serves as Chhoti’s caretaker, guide, and protector. In film and in life, although Rudrani has been the victim of social injustices, though her courage remains unflagging till the end, and I simply loved Rudrani’s on-screen portrayal. Why would I ever want to take the backward path of denigrating transgenders by not allowing one of their own to portray themselves. The point is, I wouldn’t. It would not only be unethical but inauthentic. #StayingTrueToTheStory #NoPlaceForHate #noracism #nosexism #nogenderism #worshipthetruth @rudrani786 @paul.andrew.assimacopoulos @rajesh4films @neerajtiwari @vibhavsrivastava31 @outsiderfest

15.6k Likes, 97 Comments – Vikas Khanna (@vikaskhannagroup) on Instagram: “As the The Last Color is screening at festivals all over the U.S., I sometimes field questions…”

In his post, Vikas shared, “I sometimes field questions about my choice of casting Rudrani -an Indian hijra (transgender) in the film. Why didn’t you just dress a man up in a saree to play the hijra role? some ask.

To me, such a decision seemed contrived and I recalled how people of color or certain castes or cultures or sexes have historically been disallowed from portraying their own in films. Hence, while I was developing The Last Color screenplay, it was my good fortune to meet Ashok ji. Ashok is a hijra I met while doing research along the Banaras riverbank. In fact, she lived there.
What awed me about Ashok was her sheer courage in protecting street kids from predators, sleepless morning to sleepless night—basically risking her life. The care this already vulnerable member of society showed for these even more vulnerable members of society made her a true mother goddess to them, and to me. I get so emotional just writing about her. Such inspiration and feeling compelled me to cast a hijra in the hijra role.
When I had the pleasure of meeting Rudrani during auditions, I was equally moved by this miracle child and voice-of-the-silenced-souls’ social activism, fearless energy, and eagerness to contribute. Like Ashok did with her flock of at-risk kids on the banks of Ganga, Rudrani serves as Chhoti’s caretaker, guide, and protector. In film and in life, although Rudrani has been the victim of social injustices, though her courage remains unflagging till the end, and I simply loved Rudrani’s on-screen portrayal.
Why would I ever want to take the backward path of denigrating transgenders by not allowing one of their own to portray themselves. The point is, I wouldn’t. It would not only be unethical but inauthentic.”

Last year, IWB had an opportunity to interview Rudrani Chettri regarding the character she plays in Vikas’s film. Speaking to us she shared, “The way Vikas has written the character is beautiful. It’s different, it’s profound, and most importantly it is weaved with dignity, unlike every other trans character portrayed in Indian cinema. Without much exaggeration and drama, my character shows the compassionate side of a transwoman. She is a caretaker and nurturer of a little girl. Isn’t it so rare to explore this side of a transwoman?”

“I love and respect Vikas for building Anarkali with a different perspective, going beyond the “obvious” sides of the third gender, and keeping it fictionally real. I believe and I am sure, no Indian film has ever shown a transgender with so much dignity.”

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