Mazhavil Dhwani which works towards the upliftment of the members of the transgender community in the State, has 15 members, all trans persons, taking the stage to narrate their experiences.
Celebrity make-up artist Renju Renjimar believes that it takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow. Despite years of bias and marginalization the trans person has encountered, she has learned that life is not without its silver linings. Renju is now happy to have a platform to tell the world both the high points and the vicissitudes of her life.
Mazhavil Dhwani, the first transgender theatre group in the State, has been taking the stories of the community far and wide through the play Parayan Maranna Kadhakal in an attempt to wake up society’s conscience and help it see both sides of the coin.
An offshoot of Ernakulam-based Dhwayah Arts and Charitable Society, which works towards the upliftment of the members of the transgender community in the State, the theatre group has 15 members, all trans persons, taking the stage to narrate their experiences.
“Mazhavil Dhwani took shape following a 10-day theatre workshop spearheaded by Srijith Sundaram, founder of Chennai-based Kattiyakari theatre group, at the School of Drama and Fine Arts in 2017,” says Renju, a troupe member and co-founder of Dhwayah. Not sticking to a set script, Parayan Maranna Kadhakal moves forward by recounting real-life experiences of the 15 actors on stage. With actors, beauticians, comedians and the like among the group, they come from many walks of life.
Surya Ishaan, a comedienne, says Parayan Maranna Kadhakal attempts to give equal importance to all the characters on stage, while each one recounts his/her experiences. “For instance, my character speaks about an incident at a police station. There are takes on pregnancy and motherhood from the perspective of a trans person,” says Surya from Thiruvananthapuram.
Sheetal Shyam, also a member of the State transgender justice board, says when Srijith was aggregating the stories during the groundwork, some of them were “shocked” to hear the experiences of others in the group. “When we all sat together and shared our trials and tribulations, we felt some of them must be shared with the society at large. These stark stories were, in fact, our lives. A key objective of Mazhavil Dhwani is to offer a peek into our lives and convey the message in a manner that connects with the audience,” says Sheetal.
Not sticking to a script also helps them to “keep updating” the one-hour-long play by incorporating contemporary developments and new experiences. Parayan Maranna Kadhakal was recently staged during the Theatre Festival as part of the ongoing Soorya Festival and Chilanka Rural Festival in Venjaramoodu.
The members say the play has been quite influential in breaking some myths and biases about the transgender community, at least among a section of the viewers. But what heartens them is the larger acceptance they have received on a personal level when the family members of a few were able to get a better understanding of their kin. For instance, Daya Gayathri, an undergrad in Malayalam in Kochi, recounts how her parents greeted and hugged her after watching the play’s première and expressed their willingness to accept her as a trans woman. “It felt momentous when they said “till now, we have been having only a son. But at this age, we are getting a daughter too,” says Daya, whose two poems have been incorporated into the play. Surya chimes in, saying many of the viewers told them they could see another side of the lives of trans people they otherwise never thought about.
Having made an appearance in a few movies, acting is not new for Deepthi Kalyani, who grabbed headlines when she became the first trans person to feature on the cover of a popular magazine for women in 2016. When asked about the difference in facing the camera and preparing for the stage, Deepthi says she does not face the “compulsion” to become a character in Parayan Maranna Kadhakal since in effect she is playing herself. “Then there’s the satisfaction of depicting my own life,” she says.
The members say theatre also serves as a fitting medium to drive home the point that trans people too are just like others. “If you look at the history of the State, theatre helped usher in a renaissance on many fronts in Kerala. Take the Kerala People’s Arts Club (better known as KPAC), for instance. Theatre is a powerful medium to trigger a through-provoking debate. There’s a confluence of language, visuals, and performance, making it a conducive agency to convey a message,” says Surya.
Renju recounts how the troupe and bookings were hit during the floods last year when stage props stored at Dhwayah’s office in Kochi were damaged. However, the members were not willing to give up. Through the help of cultural activist Soorya Krishnamoorthy, they staged two ticketed performances in a day at Ganesham, Thycaud, to recoup the losses while donating the remainder to flood relief funds.
Soorya Krishnamoorthy says he was “was deeply moved” to listen to their poignant life story, which prompted him to include Parayan Maranna Kadhakal as part of this year’s Soorya festival. “The reception was overwhelming and I wanted to help the play reach out to more people as these were stories that needed to be told to change public perception. I felt if you watched the play once, you may start looking at trans persons in a better light,” he says.
Having already found audiences in over 20 stages so far, including Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, Mazhavil Dhwani is gearing up to grab attention on the international stage with performances in Singapore and Malaysia in the coming months.
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