Malayalam cinema welcomes its first-ever transgender playback singer, Rlv Charu Latha

An accidental playback singer, Charu Latha had no formal music training. Singing became her guiding light during her struggles with gender identity, ultimately propelling her to fame

At present, Charu Latha runs two dance schools under the name 'Natya Dharmi' in her hometown, Neeleswaram (Photo: Rlv Charulatha/Facebook)
At present, Charu Latha runs two dance schools under the name 'Natya Dharmi' in her hometown, Neeleswaram (Photo: Rlv Charulatha/Facebook)


Dancing enthralled her more in her childhood, but it is singing that saw her through her battles with a gender and identity crisis and eventually led her to fame.

This passionate classical dancer is now in the limelight as the first transgender playback singer in the Malayalam film industry.

Rlv Charu Latha, a noted dancer and transgender activist, could not hide her joy and excitement at being part of tinsel town as a playback singer.

"I am an accidental playback singer by all means. I have been a dancer since I was young and never imagined that I would ever be known as a singer," Charu Latha told PTI.

She has voiced two songs in the upcoming anthology movie Neethi (Justice) — one solo and a jalsa song, which is also considered to be the first such in Malayalam.

Jalsa is traditionally performed by third-gender people, with the person switching genders in the performance. The members of the community in Kerala have thus far used Hindi or Kannada songs during such performances, as there was no apt song in Malayalam.

Charu Latha said she chanced upon an advertisement inviting transgender singers and had applied for it without much hope of success.

Directed by Dr Jessy Kuthanur, the movie Neethi is an anthology of three mini-movies that revolve around the struggle of three marginalised communities — tribal communities, the gay community and transgender people — to get their fundamental rights upheld.

The artist said the hero and heroine of the movie are also trans persons and the director of the movie was particular that a transgender person should lend voice to the songs.

"Playback singing was not easy for me. Though I have learnt music in my childhood days, I had no formal training in classical music," Charu Latha said.

She said it took hours for music director Krishna Prasad to teach her the nuances of the song so that she could bring out the affects he really wanted.

"But when I listened to the recorded song for the first time, my mind brimmed with happiness and pride. My hard work and that of the entire team paid off," the dancer-turned-singer said.

A postgraduate student of dance from the renowned RLV College of Music and Fine Arts in Tripunithura, Charu Latha said that she was ready to accept more offers that come her way in the film industry, but would not give up dance for any reason.

She had completed her studies years before coming out as transgender, and recalls how she was ridiculed and isolated by fellow students as a 'man' too.

"I completed my studies in 2015. I joined the institution as a male student. Though I was yet to reveal my gender identity then, my trans persona was evident through my mannerisms. Many fellow students mocked me," she said.

Fighting all odds, she managed to finish the course and secured a first-class grade.

Charu Latha recalled that almost a decade ago, the majority of transgender people in the state did not dare to reveal their identity.

It was only after 2017, following the effective implementation of the state transgender policy, that marginalised groups started coming forward, she added.

Hailing from Neeleswaram, in the northernmost Kasaragod district, Charu Latha has been receiving immense support from her community for her new role as a singer.

But there are several people in society who are still reluctant to accept and recognise her talent just because of her transgender identity, the 34-year-old artist added.

At present, Charu Latha is running two dance schools under the name 'Natya Dharmi' in her hometown.

She has bought her own house with her hard-earned money.

"Initially, I faced issues in my family when I revealed my gender identity. But now everyone is very supportive. My mother and I are living in my new house," Charu Latha added.

Meanwhile, Neethi director Jessy Kuthanur was all praise for Charu Latha's work.

"I was not looking for a male or a female voice for this particular song. What I wanted was something in between the two. The song is a lullaby... a communication between a mother and a child," he told PTI.

Charu Latha was chosen over 17 other applicants. The filmmaker also said that the singer took pains to bring out her best.

"It took nearly 10 hours to record the song. Her voice used to get modulated (unpredictably) due to the hormonal medicines she is taking," he said.

Saying that it is a good song and people will like it when the movie is released, the director added that the singer has a good chance of winning an award.

The jalsa song in the movie was sung jointly by Charu Latha and Varshanandhini, another transgender woman from Palakkad district.

It has already been accepted as their official song by the transgender community in the state.

The film's premiere is scheduled for 28 September and it would be released in all major theatres in the state later, he added.

Also an LGBT activist, Kuthanur is a practising clinical psychologist too, specialising in challenges faced by marginalised groups. 

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