Playing It Safe: Indian Middle-Class Spatial Imaginaries and Contemporary Visual Trans Representation

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Subramanian, Prerna
Transgender , Representation , India , Mobility , Justice , Safety , Spatial , Imaginary , Cinema
To better understand the contradictions between representation and the ongoing material struggles of transgender people in India, I set out to examine visual texts by tracing journeys/movement of transgender characters within these stories. I analyze three visual texts: Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap's series Sacred Games, episode "Brahmahaty" (2018), Akshat Verma's Hinglish film Kaalakaandi (2018), and Thiagaraja Kumararaja's Tamil film Super Deluxe (2019). By analyzing the compositional logics of these visual texts at the site of their social production, with transgender struggles in India specifically in mind, I explore the imagined resolutions to real conflicts faced by transgender characters as they journey across different places within the narrative. I explore how these visual texts place and move transgender characters within the bifurcated, static imaginaries of 'safe' and 'unsafe' zones of the city, wherein transgender characters seem to be afforded a linear movement between criminal-civil zones and extraordinary-ordinary spatial containers of crime and respectability. Here, the stasis of the imaginary is owed to the way in which such spatial arrangements only allow for interpreting transgender mobility within the exclusionary social hierarchies that serve middle-class interests. Through this work, I contemplate how in order for characters in visual-textual worlds to move in non-normative, subversive, or just new directions, we cannot simply add them to a place and make it "different" as in diverse; we also need to change the very narrative logic that organises what people do, and how places can look, and we will only be able to do so if we are open to moving a bit differently and no longer playing it safe.
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