What a surprisingly good movie! Not perfect, there’s a dodgey bit in the middle that I might fastfoward in future, but the rest of it is very VERY good. Especially Vaani’s performance.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Vaani is a trans woman. She is starting her first job as a woman teaching Zumba at a local gym. Her family is wealthy and her father supports her in every way, but she wants something for herself. Besides her father, the rest of her family has cast her off so she lives alone in Chandigarh with the support of her close friend gender non-binary Karishma Singh (I think, I’m having a hard time figuring out the cast list). At her new job, she meets a weight lifter and co-owner of the gym, Ayushmann Khurrana. They like each other, they get to know each other, and then he invites her to a Holi party and they have sex. Immediately, they are passionately in love, talking all night, having sex in the locker room, everything is perfect. Until Ayushmann proposes and Vaani painfully reveals that she was born in a boy’s body. Ayushmann can’t process what she is saying and is furious and storms out. But later at the gym when he tells his friends, he fights them when they use a slur to describe her. And he doesn’t out her to her gym students or to his family who have all met and like her. His family keeps pressuring him to propose, so finally he goes to Vaani and asks for her help to convince the family they have broken up. She refuses to help, because it is his problem. Ayushmann misses her more and more and feels sadder and sadder. He starts researching what it means to be trans, and finally asks the local Hijra to have coffee with him and help him understand, then goes to a doctor for more information. With all of this to think about, he is shocked when his family finds out and insults her and yells at him, finally his sisters out Vaani in front of her class, humiliating her. Ayushmann goes to apologize and learns that Vaani’s father is in the hospital. He follows her to the hospital and supports her as she stands up to her family and demands her right to be there. He begs her to take him back, says he loves her and wants to be with her, and then stands up to his own family when they tell him to leave her. Finally, he wins the big weight lifting competition and brings her down from the stands to celebrate with him, kissing her and acknowledging their relationship in front of his family and friends.
The first half is where this film really shines. We are with Vaani all the way. We feel her excitement mixed with fear as she starts to fall in love. And her excitement mixed with fear just as she goes about her day, being happy when people turn to look at her because she is a beautiful woman, but also a little bit afraid that they might find her “secret”. One of my favorite parts is when the Hijra stops their taxi to beg. Ayushmann casually gives her money, but Vaani looks down and away. We can feel her fear that like will recognize like and she will be outed, mixed with guilt over her privileged position, having surgery and medical help and being able to “pass” without needing to beg on the street. She and Ayushmann fall in love naturally and sweetly, no big hiccups, they like each other, she helps him when he hurts his nose at the gym, he asks her to take a walk with him, they talk about family and life and light things like that. We can feel her conflict, because clearly this man likes her, and she likes him, and it really SHOULDN’T matter that she was born in a male body, but at the same time does she have the right to keep that from him?
The one part that is no good is in the middle. Ayushmann finds out and reacts with anger and disgust. BOOOOOO!!!! I do think that, as someone in a relationship, you are allowed to say “I’m sorry, this is something I just can’t do”. But anger and disgust is NOT ACCEPTABLE. The odd thing is, after that ten minute section, his whole attitude changes so drastically I almost wonder if the angry bit was added in a later re-write. He goes from being angry, to just being sad that they aren’t together any more. And finally to putting in the work he needs to do so that they can be together again. In my edit of the film, I will just fastfoward the stupid ten minutes and go from reveal to “I’m sad we can’t be together and maybe I should figure out how we can be together”.
But the rest of it is SO GOOD. It’s all about Vaani. I love that we are coming in after she has fully transitioned. She had her surgeries 6 years earlier. She even had a previous relationship with a man. This isn’t the usual sort of “coming out” story. This is about how life is just always going to be hard. She is always going to be in danger, she is always going to be a little scared when she is out in the world, and her family is going to change, if at all, very very slowly. And on the other hand, she also is going to be loved and loving and have a new family. Her friend is amazing, right there for her, understanding, defensive, loving, everything you want in a family. And her father loves her unconditionally, as parents should, and is sad that she had to move far away from him and that his wife and other family won’t let her be a part of their life. And yes, he isn’t going to leave his wife and everyone else for the save of his daughter, but he will do everything short of leaving them in order to help her. And that’s settled too, that she and her father will be close forever, and he will pay for her medical procedures, but he has to lie about business trips in order to come visit her.
Just so many small issues the film touches on before moving on. Vaani is this rich well-educated woman, but she is working as a Zumba instructor. The Hijra Ayushmann talks to quotes Shakespeare and says she was an English BA. Being trans drops you economically several degrees down from where you were born, the film doesn’t have to say it, it just shows it. We see Vaani going about her daily life, and it involves taking pills twice a day, going in for electrolysis, going to a therapist, this is life long for her, but also manageable, not traumatic, just regular. And we see her say “thank you” when Ayushmann has sex with her, because her greatest desire is also her greatest fear, sex.
One of the things I liked best is that she frequently referred to herself as a “trans girl”. That’s a very clear word choice. She could say “transsexual”, or “Hijra”. But instead she chooses a phrase which says “I am a girl, just in a different way”. And that’s why I am okay with Vaani being cast. Yes, it would have been better if a trans woman was cast in the role. But let’s assume they asked and couldn’t find anyone. I am far FAR happier to have a woman in the part than a man. Because it is a woman’s part, the character is a woman. That’s the whole point of the film, she is a woman end of sentence. Especially because this isn’t a transition story, this is a post-transition story. She had the operations, she takes the hormones, she is a woman in every sense besides being born with a vagina and uterus. Why not cast a woman to play the role?
Anyway, what I am saying is you should all watch this movie. Yes, the middle ten minutes are bad, and the ending is maybe too happy and perfect (his whole family comes around? Really?), but the rest of it is excellent. And Vaani’s character and performance are just outstanding.