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Monday, December 4, 2023

Sushmita Sen Shines in ‘Taali,’ Yet Falls Short of Brilliance’


Sushmita Sen shines as transgender activist Gauri Sawant in the biographical drama “Taali,” brought to life by creators Arjun Singh Baran and Kartik D. Nishandar, under the direction of Ravi Jadhav. Sen’s portrayal of the intricate character deserves a hearty round of applause. But while the series boasts many admirable elements, it somehow lacks the spark it needs.

The show paints a vivid picture of Gauri Sawant’s life, tracing her pivotal moments. One of the most heart-wrenching is her strained relationship with her father, a police officer portrayed brilliantly by Nandu Madhav. Growing up in a conservative environment, Gauri grapples with her own identity, both physically and emotionally.

We watch as Gauri transforms from a girl trapped in a boy’s body, yearning for acceptance, into a determined transwoman. She fearlessly takes on adversities, battling not only against pimps and brothel-keepers but also against those in power who oppose her, like Ananth Mahadevan’s dean of a hospital who faces her unyielding determination.

Gauri’s journey unfolds with a mix of drama, creating allies and foes along the way. As she gains prominence and expands her network, she becomes an advocate for the legal rights of transgenders. “Taali” doesn’t shy away from sharing the story of Gauri Sawant, a tale already known to the public. However, its retelling serves a purpose—raising awareness and dispelling misconceptions about the third gender.

While the series provides enough narrative content to sustain its six episodes, it slightly falters by not delving deeper into the intricate world of the transgender community. The inner struggles, the complexities of Gauri’s personal and public battles to establish equality for her community, could have given the series greater depth.

To its credit, both the lead and the director, working with Kshitij Patwardhan’s script, avoid sensationalism and instead present the challenges Gauri faced with authenticity. This restraint works in favor of the series, for the most part. Yet, “Taali” stays on the surface of Gauri’s struggles with her identity, family, society, community, and the law. It addresses the broad themes of being different in a world that predominantly defines normality by the cis majority.

A lingering question arises: Would the series have benefited from casting a real-life transgender actor for the central role? Sushmita Sen gives a compelling performance, effectively portraying an individual who underwent a sex change operation when it was a rarity in India, subsequently becoming a voice for all transgenders. However, complete authenticity might have been a challenging feat.

The series kicks off at the Supreme Court of India, where Gauri’s petition is set to be heard. It expertly weaves between the present and her challenging childhood, revealing the transformation from Ganesh to Gauri. The narrative is driven by a conversation between Gauri and a journalist, unfolding through flashbacks. The desire to be a mother, expressed by Ganesh in his school days, becomes a pivotal point in Gauri’s journey.

An impactful scene features a transgender woman, Nargis, critiquing Ganesh’s superficial transformation. This forces Ganesh to introspect and embark on a more profound personal journey. While the series captures the transformation’s physical aspects, it doesn’t fully explore its psychological depths, leaving a sense of missed potential.

Surprisingly, Ravi Jadhav, known for his bold storytelling in films like “Natarang” and “Nude,” falls a bit short with “Taali.” The series extends the gender discourse introduced in his debut film, yet it doesn’t quite attain the resounding impact it could have had.

In a nutshell, “Taali” captures the essence of Gauri Sawant’s battles with herself, her family, her society, and the world’s norms. Although the series offers important insights into the struggles of the third gender, it stops short of achieving the greatness it aspires to. The narrative is potent, but the execution leaves room for improvement.


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