Director Vikas Khanna with trans actor and activist Rudrani Chhetri (Instagram/vikaskhannagroup)
An acclaimed Indian film director has explained why he delayed shooting his latest movie to ensure that a transgender actor could be cast in a transgender role.
Celebrity chef Vikas Khanna makes his directorial debut with The Last Color, which is in the running for the 2020 Academy Award for Best Picture.
One of the film’s central characters is a trans woman, Anarkali, whose intolerance to injustice brings about a revolution – and Khanna was adamant that she would not be played by “a man in a saree”.
“I delayed the shooting of The Last Color by months because I wanted to do complete justice to one of the important characters of the film,” he explained on social media.
Khanna said he has “always voiced [and] voted for minorities,” highlighting the inclusive hiring in his restaurants, his Feed India initiative, and his cookbook dedicated to the Indian transgender community.
“One of the main characters of The Last Color is Anarkali, a transgender [woman] who has the power of a man and woman combined. She is Chhoti’s guardian and stands up against the corrupt system.
“While auditioning artists for her character, I was very clear about one thing – I WILL NOT DRESS UP A MAN IN SAREE FOR THIS ROLE.”
He continued: “I was on a mission to find a transgender person to play it and auditioned hundreds of transgender [people] in Varanasi, Delhi, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Jaipur, but couldn’t find the perfect match. Until one day I saw pictures and clips of beautiful Rudrani.”
Rudrani Chhetri is a transgender artist, activist and model who founded India’s first trans modelling agency in 2015. She remains a central figure in the Delhi transgender community through her work in HIV prevention.
Moved by her “fearless energy” in auditions, Khanna instantly knew she was perfect for the role. “Her eyes, pain, silence, acting, dedication, discipline and talent is unmatched,” he said.
“In film and in life, Rudrani has been the victim of social injustices, though her courage remains unflagging til the end,” he added in a separate post.
“Why would I ever want to take the backward path of denigrating transgender [people] by not allowing one of their own to portray themselves? The point is, I wouldn’t. It would not only be unethical but inauthentic.”
The Last Colour premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and is now streaming on Amazon Prime.