The Paurashpur trailer dropped on December 7th, revealing an orgy of sexual violence against women, hints of queer desire, Milind Soman wearing jewellery (SHOCK, HORROR!) and also carrying a sword (cognitive dissonance, how can this be? It defies belief.) The ALTBalaji-Zee5 ‘magnum opus’ is being pushed on every damn newspaper like it is the second coming of Games of Thrones (with the same amount of sexual violence, bloody gore, and general bad behaviour under the guise of grittiness).
Milind Soman’s Instagram is full of pictures, the silver mane, the not-too-tidy beard and moustache, the running, the health, the book (Made in India, because even Milind Soman was nothing to me before Alisha Chinai anointed him with buttloads of oil for her glorious video back in the 90s. If you were born too early or too late to know the glory of Alisha’s ‘Made in India’, I beg you to watch the video). He personifies his masculine handsome strongness visibly in between each hint he drops about Boris’ character. Never played someone like this before!! 🙂 he exclaims. “For the third gender in the world of Paurashpur, it has always been a power struggle! A sharp mind and a charming personality; witness the many shades of love and the quick-wit of Boris, only in #Paurashpur.”
So.. Boris isn’t a cis male. Milind Soman is a cis male, and there is a strong argument that can be made that it is a better hiring practice to hire people who are transgender to play people who are transgender. Even outside of artistic authenticity, it gives a previously unseen and demonised community a platform.
If you hold to this argument, the question then becomes, what is Boris’ gender? “Third gender” doesn’t tell us much. It’s not like we labelled them in numerical order. (Several Indian langauges have three genders, for men, women, and things. Boris is not a thing. Boris is a person.)
India alone has numerous alternative transgender/alternative gender identities, not all of which are the same. This is on top of the binary of transgender men and transgender women and doesn’t cover being genderfluid, genderqueer, agender or simply gender non-conforming.
Let’s count off: In Paurashpur, there are men and women. We can’t be sure if this category includes transgender men and transgender women, or means only cis men and cis women. If it’s the latter, then “third gender” could mean:
- Boris is a transgender man
- Boris is a transgender woman (in a historical fantasy world with no gender confirmation procedures upon the body)
- Boris is genderqueer
- Boris is non-binary
- Boris is a cis man who wears makeup and jewellery
Who knows? I hope desperately that the show knows. That Soman knows. That the coyness about Boris’ gender is simply because they think it is SO COOL and not because this is enough.
In another world, where we had equality, where so many of us weren’t in the closet, where straight people, cisgender people, and caste-and-class- privileged people weren’t already stealing our time, our limelight, our access to dignity, this wouldn’t matter.
But we don’t live in that world. And the news media doesn’t live in that world. “He can be seen wearing a huge nose-pin in the newly launched trailer,” says She The People TV. NDTV blesses us with more detail: “In the first look poster, Milind Soman features in a gender-fluid look – the 55-year-old actor sports a huge nose-pin, a red bindi, black nail-paint and heavy gold jewellery. He also adds one more thing to his accessories – a sword.”
This is pathetic. This is all it takes to break gender? No wonder cis straight men are such a mess.
Right now, we are judging everything based on a trailer, an Instagram post and the nonsense news that has sprung up around it all. We could take a risk, and watch Paurashpur. If Milind Soman plays a nuanced character and represents that character’s gender (whatever it actually is besides #3) with something approximating depth, we can then turn to the rest of the rapey bloody mess with popcorn in hand, anticipating the fun to follow!
Can I interest you in anything and everything by Alisha Chinai instead?