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Subhash K Jha Interviews Gazal Dhaliwal, The Transwoman Who Has Written The Lesbian Drama Ek LadkiDo Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

First of all,how does it feel to be celebrated as  a bright young writer  for your work in Ek Ladki  Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga?

To be honest, I’m far from thinking highly of myself or my talent. I always tend to find flaws and issues in my work after I watch it. And then, try my best to learn from them, hoping that I can write better in my next work. That said, it certainly feels nice to hear compliments , especially from people who don’t know me and simply write in to tell me how much they enjoyed or were moved by the film. I allow myself to take a moment and acknowledge the hard work I have put in and feel grateful for having been able to tell this important story, especially because of Vinod sir, who agreed to produce the film.

How much  of your own experience have you put  into the  film ?

Not consciously.But of course, when I think about it, there is no denying that my life’s experiences have found their way into the film. Firstly, I happen to be an introverted person like Sweety. I did live a life of suppression, feeling caged in my own body, for two and a half decades. Secondly and more importantly, my parents understood me and chose to love and protect me just the way Balbir does for Sweety in the end.I must also point out how my life was different from Sweety’s. I had a lot of friends all along the way and there were a couple with whom I was always able to share my challenges. In that regard, Sweety had it harder than me.

What  is  the  best  compliment you have  received for your work?

Someone tweeted  that she went to watch the film with her mother. After the movie, she came out to the mother and told her that she is a lesbian. The mother was silent all day. The next morning, she made this girl’s favourite breakfast for her. And that said it all.

This tweet was the best possible compliment for me. Shelly Chopra Dhar, the director of the film, and I had always thought that if we were able to change even one person’s heart through our film, we would have won. This girl’s story, somehow, validated me and the work put into the film.

Do you  think  this film is  significant step forward  for  the  lgbtq community? Do you feel  Indian mainstream  cinema has a long way to go before  gay relationships acquire  normalcy?

The film is LGBTQ 101 for mainstream Bollywood. Like Rajkummar Rao’s character, Sahil, says in the film , “Pata nahin iss play ka kuchh faayda hona hai ya nahin, par kisi ko toh shuruaat karni hogi. Abhi toh sab so rahe hain“. All the messages , tweets , calls , emails I have received over the last few days tell me that the LGBTQ community is quite happy with the film and their representation. The film is far from perfect but just its existence is certainly a significant step.Having said that, we do have a long way to go before we have done enough ,provided  that is even possible to do. I have seen the film about 3-4 times with audiences, and in each one of those shows, several people got up and left through the second-half. That tells you where we stand. It is those people that we need to speak to through our films., and I really hope that we can continue to do so.

Your journey from  a male trapped in  a female  body to finally being liberated ….I cannot begin to imagine the pain suffering trauma and dilemma…how did you cope with it all ?

That’s a very tough question to answer. I try to not think about that period of my life. It feels almost like another lifetime. I think the underlying theme of my life was suffocation and helplessness. I focused a lot on academics and theatre to divert myself from that theme. The other thing that kept me afloat was the fact that I was an extremely loved child. These few things never let me feel that my life had no meaning and that helped me cope.

 At what age  did you finally come to terms with  your gender aberration and  how did you deal with the  psychological  and physical  conflict of  a  female trapped in a female  body?

By the age of 5, I was aware of that aberration, even though I had no name or explanation for it. Then, at 17, when I found this boon called internet, I searched online for this condition… and found out that even though it is rare, Gender Dysphoria does exist, wherein a person born with one sex identifies as the other sex. That helped me feel valid and accept that I was not a crazy person. Eventually, in my film school, some of my friends and I made a documentary film on transsexuality which helped me and my family to finally accept that it was time I went ahead and fixed my body.

 How  difficult  was  the  process of re-acclimatization from  male to female?  Did  you find acceptance immediately  after the change or  did you have  to struggle to establish your  new identity among your friends?

I would say it took me about a year’s time to feel confident in my new identity. One has to deal with a certain lack of confidence and insecurity facing life’s situations with a completely new name, wardrobe, pronouns and of course, people’s gaze and whispers around you.However, around my close friends, it was a cakewalk. They would go out of their way to ensure that I was comfortable around them. My best friend would help me with clothes and styling. I have been very fortunate in the family and friends department. My struggles were largely internal ,with my own self.

 How important is a family and a supportsytem for someone in a situation as confounding as yours and what is your suggestion to those  out there in  similar gender dilemma  who don’t have a support system?

Family and support system are invaluable. Being born as LGBTQ comes with immense loneliness because a large part of the society is not ready to even listen to the idea that this is natural or that it is even possible. This loneliness sometimes even leads to some people ending their precious lives. That’s the reason an understanding family is crucial. A family that thinks of their child’s happiness before the society’s approval is a family that every person deserves, especially an LGBTQ person.But if you do not have that support system, please remember that your life is precious nevertheless. You WILL find people who love you. Just wait a little while. In the meantime, try to love yourself. Your life is as important and as beautiful as anybody else’s. Please value it, respect it and respect yourself. You will automatically attract respect and love from the world around you. You deserve kindness and if you’re not getting it from outside, find it within you. Be kind to yourself.

 How  supportive has  the entertainment  industry been? And what are your plans for  the future?

The only reason for anybody to earn respect in their workplace ought to be their talent and hard work. It has been no different for me. My life-story has played no role in my career. And that’s the way it should be. Yes, I may be a source of curiosity or surprise for some people in the industry, but I’ve learnt to understand that.I’ve made some very close friends, like Tanuja Chandra, in the industry, who have shown me immense support and encouraged me to tell my stories. I recently wrote a short film “A Monsoon Date”, directed by Tanuja, in which the lead character, played by Konkona Sensharma, is on her way to a date where she is going to come out to the guy and tell him that she is a transwoman. The film is currently being sent to festivals.I’m currently heading a writers’ room for a series which will stream on a well-known OTT platform. Other than that, I have a couple of scripts which are in the process of being pitched.

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