'I connect with Meher’s journey': Trinetra Haldar Gummraju on her transgender role in 'Made in Heaven 2'

Getting heaps of recognition for her performance in 'Made in Heaven 2', the doctor turned actor speaks to Subhash K Jha about her own onscreen and offscreen journeys

Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju in 'Made in Heaven 2' (photo courtesy IMDb)
Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju in 'Made in Heaven 2' (photo courtesy IMDb)

Subhash K Jha

Subhash K Jha: How did you bag the prominent role of Meher in Made In Heaven 2?

Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju: It happened by chance that I was found on Instagram by the casting directors Nandini [Shrikent] and Karan [Mally], who were kind enough to show my profile to Zoya [Akhtar], who asked me to self-test and then meet a month later, and that became my first visit to Bombay. And that's where it all began. I met Zoya, spoke about the character, and it seemed very clear from the get-go that she was very open to hearing me out on my lived experiences and also spoke to other trans women while writing the character of Meher. And I’m just glad that she saw something in me and trusted me with this part. And I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.

SKJ: Do you connect with Meher’s journey as a trans person?

THG: I connect with Meher’s journey a lot. Meher and I have many similarities—and many differences. We’re different in the sense that she's older, she's a lot more reserved and she has a certain quiet dignity to her in the way that she handles people and situations. I'm a lot more brazen. But we're also very similar in the sense that we've both seen transphobia in the dating sphere. We've seen violence. We've been on the receiving end of violence, especially at the hands of men. And Meher and I both also have a younger brother that we have a healthy relationship with. Moreover, we both have healthy relationships with our parents—as much as it has been a journey, it is very much a healthy space now. So those are some of the similarities.

And I entirely empathise with Meher despite some of those differences, because Meher is human first and a trans woman later. In fact, everything about her makes her relatable, despite her being trans, to a largely cis audience.

SKJ: Did you use any of your own experiences to play Meher?

THG: Of course. I was a terrible elder 'brother' to my younger brother and I think it came largely from being bullied and projecting that on to my younger sibling, which was extremely unfair to him. It's taken years for us to try and build a relationship again. Like Meher, I do believe that I am a better sister than I was a 'brother'.

SKJ: What was it like working with the Made In Heaven team, especially Arjun [Mathur], Shobhita [Dhulipala] and Shivani [Raghuvanshi], who play your immediate circle among your co-stars?

THG: It was absolutely wonderful. They were all very warm and welcoming. I was the youngest person. And it was a little intimidating in the beginning because it was a new world and I come from a very different world, that is, medicine. And that world demands very different things of a person. The entire show was shot, from start to finish, during my internship. So it was mentally and physically exhausting to sort of shuffle back and forth from the hospital to the sets. But my co-actors—especially Neel [Madhav], who plays Danish, my boyfriend on the show—if anything, made my life and job so much easier by just being very warm and welcoming throughout. So I just have immense gratitude to all of them.

SKJ: What are your future plans?

THG: My future plans for the time being involve taking a break from medicine. So I am very much looking forward to improving my skills as an actor and playing all kinds of characters, not necessarily trans persons only. But I definitely want to drive a change and just improve the representation of trans people in entertainment and diversify the kinds of stories that are told.

SKJ: Sushmita Sen plays a trans character in Taali. What is your take on that?

THG: Sushmita Sen is an absolute powerhouse of a performer. I have adored her and her grace since I was a child. And I really can't speak for Shri Gauri Sawant-ji, because at the end of the day, the character is about her. I mean, Sushmita Sen plays the role of Gauri Sawant-ji, and Gauri herself has been involved in the process of that story, as far as I know. So I wouldn't be the right person to comment on what Gauri-ji should or should not feel about that portrayal—that's a very personal thing. But from a bigger picture perspective, for our world at large, I would definitely say that more trans people need to be getting work.    

SKJ: How tough is it for you to normalise your life and career?

TH: I think even the conversation about 'normalising' my life and career is a far cry from the reality of the vast majority of the community. Because the vast majority of the trans community is extremely marginalised and survives largely on begging and sex work and badhai toli. And a good 98 per cent of us don’t have familial acceptance and support.

And I think normalising trans people is still a step away when it comes to the vast majority of the trans community and we're fighting very basic battles like literacy, health care, shelter, education and employment.

So of course, it's difficult to normalise a trans person (on screen) because very often the depictions revolve around caricature-ish portrayals of trans people. Our lives are often reduced to surgical transitions and the violence and the blood and the gore. So we’re a far, far, far cry from normalising trans people.

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