Thirumathi Nangai is an upcoming documentary based on the successful fight of a cis-trans couple to get their marriage registered in India. Directed by Shiva, the film is co-produced by music composer Karthikeya Murthy, who was recently named as one of the BAFTA Breakthrough talents.
Speaking to Silverscreen India, Murthy, who has composed music for television and films, says, “There was a time when I was working on subjects dealing with sex trafficking, violence against women, and transgender people. During the course of that, I came to realise the gravity of the social stigma faced by trans people. This stigma needs to be removed. And documentaries like these pave the way for that.”
The couple in the film, Arun Kumar, a cis man, and Srija, a trans woman, became the first such couple from the state of Tamil Nadu to get their marriage registered after a protracted legal struggle. Their legal battle gave way to the historic judgment in 2019 wherein the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court said that marriage solemnised between a man and a trans woman is valid and authorities should register it. The court had added that the expression ‘bride’ under the Hindu Marriage Act would also include trans women.
Director Shiva tells Silverscreen India he was tired of seeing negative stories on the trans community. “When I heard Srija’s story, I knew I had to document it so the public could finally see something positive.”
Shiva came across the couple’s story when working with NGOs. “When Arun and Srija went to a temple in Thoothukudi to get married, they were turned away. This was because the temple’s form only had two gender columns — male and female — while Srija is a trans woman (which is also mentioned on her Aadhar card). After much hassle, the police had to be called in and the two finally tied the knot,” he says.
But that wasn’t the end of their struggles. The couple, who were not accepted by the groom’s family, wanted to get their marriage formally registered. However, there too they faced the same fate. The district registrar turned them down. This led to them filing a petition with the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court. And the rest is history.
The documentary, which is still in the making, will showcase everything that the couple went through, says the director. “We are using old photos and video archives and are even recreating some of the events that happened.”
The project has so far been funded by Shiva and Murthy on their own. The ongoing pandemic has made production quite challenging, Murthy tells us. “When the pandemic hit, we had to halt the shooting and this put a strain on our funds. We started production in January 2020 but till now only one schedule has been completed. There are two more to go.”
Murthy and Shiva have now turned their hopes to public funding. “Whatever little we can gather from the public will help a lot in making this film. We believe this is a subject that should be introduced to the audience and in order to make it, we will need the proper funding,” the duo says.
While screening the film in theatres is something they have not considered yet, Murthy, who has worked on Vijay Sethupathi’s Namma Ooru Hero, believes bigger OTTs may be interested in such a story. “We will finish this film with all our heart and if it does get picked up by an OTT, then nothing better!”
Shiva also hopes their film will motivate other filmmakers to take up such topics and show the LGBTQIA+ community in a more positive light.