In a scene that comes late in the new series Taali, gay NGO worker Navin (Ankur Bhatia) tells trans activist Gauri (Sushmita Sen) that the discrimination she faces is nowhere near what she has to live with day in and day out. Still, the show in no way provides context for what Navin’s matches look like. Taali doesn’t care at all. It is this tepid, unfair juxtaposition of queer existence and their reality that floods the sanitized biographical drama that is Taali.
Created by Arjun Singgh Baran and Kartk D Nishandar and directed by Ravi Jadhav, Taali revolves around the life of transgender activist Shreegauri Sawant. The six-episode long run rests squarely on the shoulders of actor Sushmit Sen, who plays Sawant with expected grace and brilliance. Despite its noble endeavours, Taali struggles to rise above its standard biographical drama template. Written by Kshitij Patwardhan, Taali somehow gets stuck in constantly viewing its subject through a narrow, formally manipulative lens.
We follow Gauri through flashbacks as she presents her linear memories in the form of Ted-talk inspired memorabilia for an interview with a prototypical white journalist named Amanda (Maya Rechal Mcmanus). First, it tells how Ganesh, an effeminate schoolboy (played by Krutika Rao) was bullied for saying she wanted to be a mother when she grew up. Ganesh’s rigid, conservative police inspector father (Nandu Madhav) even takes her to a sex clinic to prescribe hormone pills. The decision to run away from home becomes her only way out after a point.
These earlier scenes are directed heavy-handedly as if the details were integrated and presented through a certain checklist. 4 hours to the historic decision, we were also told. Before we even introduce the subject and its concerns, it is this very announcement that is underlined and fed to the audience in the very first episode. (The deduction is then completely forgotten, as is the conversation). When will filmmakers stop force-feeding audiences information and acknowledge their ability to fill in the blanks?
What doesn’t work
It doesn’t help that when Sushmita Sen steps in as a teenage Ganesh, the scenes are set for the audience to follow her journey from there. The show is unable to trace the ways in which she found the courage and determination to undergo gender reassignment surgery. (It’s heavily orchestrated into one social gathering where Ganesh is mocked by the trans community.)
He arrives as Gauri, and the next thing we know she’s turned into a messiah of sorts for the trans community. From rescuing a harassed trans worker to attending an American conference for her work as a teacher at a local school, her journey is marked by a series of milestones. Not even for a second are we allowed to enter her inner life how does she pull herself together to face these extraordinary circumstances, what are her ordinary days like, where does this unwavering resilience come from?
Performance by Sushmita Sen
Sushmita Sen tries her best to bring life to Gauri but there is always a worldly presence in her screen presence that is in between. The obvious obstacle is her stiff body language and the way her reaction to any situation feels predictable after a certain point. It is also saddled with some bland, rhythmic lines like- “In logo ne meri makeup kiya he, shaam tak mein inka packup karti hoon!” There is only so much that can be done to save these dialogues. It’s a flamboyant, one-note performance without curiosity or surprise.
Taali is expected to refer back to India’s Supreme Court’s historic ruling that transgender individuals are a third gender. The gripping denouement comes pleasantly, but without any room for dialogue. Even after seven episodes, Gauri is somehow far away.
This is a show that only wants to celebrate her, not understand her. Taali is so caught up in presenting a total, objective figure of inspiration that he forgets that Gauri is also a living, breathing being who fully deserves a rich, subjective inner life.