Sushmita’s monumental essay is highlight of gripping Taali



Sushmita Sen essays real-life transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant in Taali. Photo: Publicity Photo

Every biopic (and though divided over six episodes, the total length of Taali as a series is a little over three hours, like many a big-screen venture) faces a dilemma: how much to dramatize and what level of realism is to be maintained. In most well-made cases, for the average viewer, this subtle balancing act isn’t always obvious. For example, a super-dramatic confrontation between Veer Savarkar and Mahatma Gandhi in the former’s 2001 biopic, Veer Savarkar, seemed a ‘filmi add-on’ but had really happened, while many a dull or bland moment in other biopics have been actually added fictionally for perceived ‘valid’ reasons!

Taali, therefore, walks the same tightrope, but so complex and compelling has been the real transgender Shreegauri Sawant’s life, especially her troubled childhood, that I, at least, saw only two departures in this saga from reality—one, in real life, she was raised by her grandmother, who is not shown here at all, and two, the final reaction of her father too seems to be put in to hit the viewer’s emotional plexus!

The series traces the life of Ganesh, son of a police inspector, who from the beginning has feminine likes and tendencies. It goes on to show his trauma-heavy journey to becoming a transgender, Gauri, and the issues that continue to torment the latter’s existence. The series culminates in the Supreme Court case that legally declared transgenders as the ‘third gender’ in India in 2014, and Shreegauri (as she comes to be known)’s role in the struggle for recognition as also for child adoption rights.

Sushmita Sen’s magnificent essay as Shreegauri is not just the highlight of this story. It is by leagues the finest performance ever of this Miss Universe, easily the finest actress from among our world-recognized artistes from the ramp along with Priyanka Chopra Jonas. Not just that, I have serious doubts whether any actress can better this essay in any web series this year, or for that matter, even in 2023 cinema.

Her small nuances, the instant change in tones from soft to dramatically loud and menacing, the gentle feminine modulations and the manly reprimands, incredibly mobile eyes and facial expressions, aided by perfect gestures and body language, all make her performance colossal…stupendous…fantabulous!

Coming a close second, separating a role’s length from the performance level, is Krutika Deo as the young Ganesh and later, Gauri, in her growing years That, at her age, Krutika understands the depths in her character and essays it with such clinical precision shows that a decade or more later, if Krutika comes into movies, we are going to have a powerhouse of talent!

Nandu Madhav as Shreegauri’s troubled dad, who is madly fond of Ganesh but abhors Gauri because of ingrained convention, is outstanding. Ankur Bhatia as Shreegauri’s friend and guide Navin (needlessly mentioned later as a gay, unless this is a real-life fact) is excellent in his low-key role. The others, real transgenders included, are all good, with Sheetal Kale making a solid mark as Nargis.

Director Ravi Jadhav, who has helmed blockbuster Marathi movies, mostly with social angles and all with high esthetic standards, is in his element again. He does not make the viewer restive, and he provokes searingly and inspires. Kshitij Patwardhan’s dialogues stand out in the superb pitch and pace of his script.

Yes, Jadhav and Patwardhan could have both gone even deeper into transgender psyches, but that would have only elongated the narrative, which has just the right mix of realism and entertainment as things stand.

However, the series could have clarified on how Shreegauri, who had got a job as a teacher, suddenly flies to the US as she is invited to talk there. Her US sojourn is not covered at all. No explanation is also given about why and how Muthu (Naren Prajapati) runs away, leading to Nargis’s suicide, and Shreegauri does not want to find and punish him.

The series offers an explanation about why the transgender community in India prefers to make a living by begging and other dubious activities—even after basic education and jobs, they will make the same amount of money, says one transgender! But they could have delved into why a substantial segment of them prefer to rely on us cisgender’s superstitious and religious notions (especially many North Indians) that make begging lucrative for most of them, rather than going in for higher education and hard work even today.

Technically upbeat, the songs and background music (Amitraj) are pleasant, and the lyrics are meaningful and pithy.

Nevertheless, the series perfectly qualifies for a binge-watch, and there are multiple lump-in-the-throat moments. Taali is a small but significant step in our understanding of these people for whom, as Shreegauri details, life continues to be, in many ways, ‘scary’.

Rating: ****

Jio Cinema presents GSEAM’s, Triple Ace Entertainment’s & Jio Studios’ Taali— Bajaungi Nahi, Bajwaungi Created by: Arjun Singgh Baran & Kartik D. Nishandar  Produced by: Arjun Singgh Baran, Kartik Nishandar, Afeefa Nadiadwala Sayed, Shubhrojyoti Guha, Mishrkeshi Jain, Sonalika Puri & Manjit Sachdev  Directed by: Ravi Jadhav Written by: Kshitij Patwardhan  Starring: Sushmita Sen, Ankur Bhatia, Krutika Deo, Sheetal Kale, Nandu Madhav, Aishwarya Narkar, Suvrat Joshi, Maya Rachel McManus, Hemangi Kavi, Hemant Choudhary, Shaan Kakkar, Meenakshi Chugh, Naren Prajapati, Aroha Dussad & others





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