A Transwoman To Play A Trans Character: Paatal Lok Gets It Right
By now you must have binged Paatal Lok and must be thinking about its powerful performances even after finishing it off in one sitting. Anushka Sharma’s first web show has a perfect cast, that is both talented and diverse. One such supporting actor whose on-screen brilliance grabbed our attention in the show is Cheeni, played by Mairembam Ronaldo Singh. This is the first time that in a mainstream web series LGBTQ character is actually played by an LGBTQ actress. Yes, the actor Mairemban, who plays a transgender woman on reel, in reality, is a transgender actress from Manipur.
There is more to Cheeni than meets the eye. Here are a few things to know about the actress who portrayed the strong character:
How Singh bagged the role
Discovered by associate Nikita Grover, who plays lady constable, casting director Abhishek Bannerjee told Film Companion, “Casting Cheeni, the trans woman character, was the biggest challenge.”
Calling the experience interesting, he added, “Her name is Mairembam Ronaldo Singh, but I used to call her Ronaldo. I don’t know whether this is a spoiler, but she is a transgender. Our associate Nikita (Grover, who plays the scene-stealing lady constable in charge of frisking Cheeni) has done a tremendous job. Most of the times, the main casting directors get all the credit. But there are the associates who do a lot of groundwork. Of course, there is a vision that a casting director gives the team. But they actually go out and help you achieve that.”
For the in-depth portrayal and a believable execution, credit goes to Mairemban, Abhishek explained. The trans woman, who finds herself in custody for the alleged murder conspiracy of Sanjeev Mehra, brought the character into life.
Needed a Manipuri actress
Most of us have noticed her accent and her gesture and that reminded us of Manipur. That’s right. Mairemban is actually from Manipur and the directors went to a great length to find her.
Sharing how they found Mairemban in a Manipur theatre, Abhishek said, “We needed a trans person for this part and we needed a Manipuri. These things could be difficult for casting directors. I remember watching Mary Kom and being disappointed with the casting. I remember casting experiences where I just didn’t know how to go about it: If you have to cast a South African team in Inside Edge, how do you cast the team?”
“So Nikita went to Manipur, found out local theatre groups, and found this gem of an actor. It’s the biggest win for us as a casting company till date. More than Mairembam, I think it’s our pleasure to get her her first screen role as an actor. Of course, she had pressure from her family. We went and convinced them. Casting doesn’t mean just getting an actor. Many of the times we have to convince the actor. It’s not necessarily the case that the people we reach out to always want to act in films and web series’. They have their own lives. And suddenly you ask them to leave everything and come to Mumbai and do a show for us, that no one knows about, with no stars,” he explained.
She came to Mumbai for only 20 days of work
Talking about her family and claiming that they did not like the idea of her to visit the city for shooting, Abhishek added, “Her family was not happy that she has to come to Mumbai for a shooting. She stopped taking calls, but Nikita had her address, so she went to her place, spoke to her family, convinced her boyfriend. One special trip went into just getting her convinced, after which we got her to Mumbai.”
“We are a country of 130 crore. If we say that we don’t have such people in India to play that character then it’s a problem.”
“We tried to make her feel comfortable as much as possible. And she did a brilliant job. We are a country of 130 crore. If we say that we don’t have such people in India to play that character then it’s a problem. The responsibility of casting directors is not to cast only people who are working, or whoever is visible or is in your circle. Their job is to find actors. If they are not doing that, then they are running a dukaan.”
Sacred Games crossover
Cheeni isn’t the first transgender character that a web series has given to us. One can safely say that when it comes to representation, Cheeni picked up from where Kukoo ( played by actress Kubbra Sait) left in Netflix’s Sacred Games. While it has taken years for film and television to get their casting right, Kuku broke many barriers when it came to writing mainstream trans characters. Is that the reason why she gets a hat tip from the makers of Paatal Lok? In the show Cheeni works at a beauty parlour run by Kukoo.
Bringing the Sacred Games reference to light, Kubbra tweeted, “You know the coolest thing… Cheeni worked in Kuku ka parlour. Mairembam Ronaldo Singh is still reeling in my head. #PaatalLok.”
You know the coolest thing… Cheeni worked in Kuku ka parlour 🤗 Mairembam Ronaldo Singh is still reeling in my head 😊 #PaatalLok
— Kubbra Sait (@KubbraSait) May 19, 2020
Feature Image Credit: Amazon Prime