Celebrating Srija, a transgender woman who found love and happiness
In Thirumathi nangai, a docu-short, filmmaker Shiva Krish tells us how he met Srija who allowed a rare look into her home and family life
I first came across a news article about Srija’s marriage to Arun in 2019, and immediately began my research into the couple. With the help of local news reporters, I contacted Srija, a transgender woman, who lives in Thoothukudi. I wanted to confirm her interest in the project through phone calls even before meeting her. Initially, Srija and Arun were apprehensive as they experienced online harassment after news of their marriage went public. They were shaken by that experience and avoided the media at all costs. But I was persistent, and over time, I won their trust and blessings to make the film.
I immediately started pre-production work by meeting Srija and her family members and having long conversations with them. Srija bonded sooner than expected and happily accepted me as her elder brother. The film 'Thirumathi nangai' takes us inside Srija’s home offering a peek into her life and that of her family. Through these moments, we show the vulnerable world of a transgender woman and that of her mother. Srija wants to be like the girl next door, and have a regular life in an Indian town.
It also mainstreams the idea of an accepting and supportive parent, and hopefully, in Valli, many parents find their voices to support their queer children.
The narrative was to be guided by live interactions in their day-to-day lives as well as interviews with Srija, her husband Arun, and her mom Valli, sharing their innermost feelings during the ups and downs of their lives. The core interviews with all the lead characters - Srija, Valli, and Arun and some demonstrative visual material were filmed before Covid-19. The pandemic massively disrupted the production plans. In March 2020, a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was imposed. When the restrictions were completely lifted by the end of the year, I was preparing to go back into production, but the catastrophic second wave struck.
Over the past three years, I earned Srija’s trust. She was very supportive of the film and gave me complete access to her story. She treated me like her own elder brother and shared all the important happenings of her life over the phone regularly. I was very cognizant of their fragile lives, and very aware of privacy concerns and not to feature any part of the story they were not okay to share with people. I even gained the brain trust of local members of the trans community and activists working at not-for-profits who will help ensure that the film advances the trans community's rights through this empowering story of love and determination.
I worked with Chithra Jeyaram, a New York-based filmmaker and the creative producer of ‘Thirumathi nangai’. She was born and lived in Thoothukudi till 5th grade and she has several first cousins, uncles and extended family members still living in the town. She has an MFA in film production from the University of Texas in Austin. Her work is supported by the Brown Girls Doc Mafia Sustainability Grant, Jerome & Puffin Foundation, Center for Asian American Media, New York State Council for the Arts, and BAVC Fellowship.
She came on board ‘Thirumathi nangai’ after seeing the footage from the first schedule of filming. She acknowledged that it was the first-ever film from India to positively portray the life of a transwoman who’s wholeheartedly accepted in her family. ‘Thirumathi nangai’ is an intimate story of a family and family is the most basic and continually evolving social unit upon which human society is built.
In spite of the multiple lockdowns and the ambiguity surrounding the film, I worked on the rough cut of the film from home, with all the materials that were in hand. When production plans resumed, Srija’s family were hunting for a house to move to. By mid-2022, the filming was completed.
The whole project was self-funded and with my friends' support. But the reserves are almost exhausted, and post-production requires considerable funds. If things fall in place, the rest of the post-production will be completed as planned in the upcoming months, and the film will be premiered by the end of this year.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
Edited by Diya Koshy George