Rainbow Rishta's Daniella Mendonca on lack of transgender actors: ‘Cast me’ | Web Series - Hindustan Times

Rainbow Rishta's Daniella Mendonca on lack of transgender actors: 'Darling, cast me!'

Nov 15, 2023 08:32 PM IST

Gender-rights activist and teacher Daniella Mendonca on Sushant Divgikar playing a cis role in Thank You For Coming, Sushmita Sen's Taali and more.

Teacher and transgender activist Daniella Mendonca insists that the community needs much more representation in not just films or shows, but all spheres of the society, including courts and the Parliament. Daniella features in Prime Video's new docu-series Rainbow Rishta, and gets candid in her exclusive interview with Hindustan Times. She also talks about Sushmita Sen portraying a transgender character in Taali and Sushant Divgikar playing a cis role in Thank You For Coming. (Also read| Rainbow Rishta trailer: Trinetra Haldar, Aishwarya Ayushmaan's new docu-series celebrates 6 queer love stories)

Daniella Mendonca in a still from the new Prime Video docu-series Rainbow Rishta.
Daniella Mendonca in a still from the new Prime Video docu-series Rainbow Rishta.

Rainbow Rishta brings happy LGBTQI+ stories

Talking about the reason for choosing to feature in the documentary, Daniella said, “We believe that any movie or shows that we have seen - all of them show us in a certain light - they are all like ‘oh my God here are queer or transgender people…They have to beg on the streets, or they have to become sex workers. We are so sorry.’ But has that changed anything? Has it made a difference in the society? It still took us 150 years to remove Section 377. We need to literally beg for our rights. The NALSA judgement to give transgender people the right to vote came only in 2014. (So that narrative has not helped us at all).”

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She added, “After all these years, it took us 2023 to show our love stories. To show the courage and happiness. I learned with this show that the world will change with positive stories, we need to tell the world that we are humans. We do not care whether or not you believe in LGBTQI+. We will be happy and this show may not have an impact now but ten years from now, someone will say I watched this show and got the courage.”

'Coming out is a big decision, a privilege'

Asked about the support system needed to sail through the troubles they face, Daniella said, “Coming out is a big decision. It is not easy. For me, there never was a coming out. I was born and people knew. I got a lot of help from friends. I thought they are too sensitive. My school friends were first ones who have seen my organs. People should come out when they feel confident that there is somebody.”

She added, “Coming out is a privilege, it is. If I have enough money, and I am independent then I can come out much easier than someone who does not have that self-reliance. If I am dependant on my parents for mny sustenance, coming out becomes a problem. But, today we also have many NGOs and people can also reach out to me on social media. I will always connect them to doctors, and other important links where they can find all the support and help. I am glad I reply to each and every message I receive on social media even before this show.”

Daniella loves challenging ideologies

Talking about the things that make her happy, Daniella said, “I love dressing up. I also love it when I accomplish things that the world told me I would not be able to do. It gives me happiness to do that. They told me ‘you cannot mary, you cannot buy a house, or work in corporate, you cannot have normal families’. I have all of that, I did all of that. I try hard to do things people tell me I cannot do because of my gender. I love it when someone's ideology is challenged with my gender.”

Daniella on Sushmita Sen and Taali

Asked about her view of Sushmita Sen's casting as a transgender in her recent series Taali, Daniella said, “There will be two debates - one is that an actor's job is acting and I agree with that too. Then, there will be people who say the kind of publicity Sushmita brought, would not have been possible if a transgender person played the role of Gauri Sawant, and I agree to it too. Both arguments stand right.”

She further said, “Talking about representation, I am more than happy that Taali tells the story of a transgender and it is for the first time to happen in mainstream cinema. I stand with Gauri Sawant that she gave that story for the world to see. But, representation in our community is something that we lack. I give it to Sushant Divgikar that she played a cis role in Thank You For Coming. Sushant is also a celebrated actor. In Taali, Sushmita did a wonderful role, and some people in the cast were transgender persons. I am glad we had a transgender story and one with a happy ending.”

She added, “If you ask me, we want representation in all spheres - the corporate world, military, police, Parliament….We want to see a transgender neta someday. I always say ‘humne dekhi sabki sarkari, ab ek baar dedo kinnaron ko baari (We have seen everyone’s governments, now give a chance to transgenders)'. We want to be in Parliament, we want to be everywhere where we have not been seen. For example, we have mostly seen straight and heterosexual people directing crews and cast on sets. This (Rainbow Rishta) was perhaps the first project in which right from the director to crew to everyone involved were LGBTQI+.”

When Rainbow Rishta crew stopped shooting, hugged Daniella

Daniella then recalled the time the shooting had to be stopped mid-scene. “There is a scene in Rainbow Rishta in which I talk about my past while eating ice cream. That had to stopped mid-way as I started cryin. The entire crew left the camera, they said ‘Stop, we are not filming this’. And, the entire crew just came and stood around me. They hugged me tightly, I was suffocating. They were like ‘Okay we are not going to shoot untill you are comfortable’. That was possible because Joydeep and Radhika were there and they could understand. If someone tells me ‘I do not know a transgender actor’, (I'd say to them) Darling, cast me! And, by not involving us in all speheres, you are losing out on becoming a better person and a better world. We are happy in our world.”

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    Sweta Kaushal has 13 years of experience covering Bollywood and regional movies, TV shows, national current affairs and social issues.

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