The transphobia of Pati, Patni aur Panga: MX Player show's ignorant writing uses trans experiences solely to elicit humour

The premise of this show, produced by Jay Sahni and Anushree Mehta, is novel, interesting, and full of potential, but the treatment is atrocious and cringeworthy.

Chintan Girish Modi December 20, 2020 14:12:38 IST
The transphobia of Pati, Patni aur Panga: MX Player show's ignorant writing uses trans experiences solely to elicit humour

If you have ever doubted the wisdom in the adage ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions,’ watch Pati, Patni aur Panga on the video streaming platform MX Player. Directed by Abir Sengupta, this web series revolves around the love story of a transgender woman named Shivani (played by Adah Sharma), and a cisgender man named Romanchak (played by Naveen Kasturia). The premise of this show, produced by Jay Sahni and Anushree Mehta, is novel, interesting, and full of potential, but the treatment is atrocious and cringeworthy.

Under the pretext of telling a story that would sensitise viewers to the experiences of gay and trans people, this show uses them as props to elicit humour. Romanchak, for instance, is shocked to see his father lying down at home in a relaxed position and enjoying a back massage administered by another man. Picking up on his discomfort, his mother jokes that her husband might become gay if he continues to get such massages for another two to four weeks. The lack of research is evident in the writing, which is shoddy as well as insensitive.

The father seems secure in his sexual orientation. He speaks of the pleasure he experiences while receiving that massage, and encourages his son to give it a shot. Romanchak, however, is unable to fathom how his father could enjoy ‘man to man’ contact. With a look of disgust on his face, he tells his mother that homosexuality is a disease spreading like dengue, and turning boys into girls. Apart from being clueless about the distinction between affliction and orientation, he is also unaware that a gay man is not a trans woman.

The Trans Equality Society, an organisation based in Medchel, Telangana, which “represents more than 200 transgender persons” has served a cease and desist notice to Karan Bedi, Chief Executive Officer, MX Player, for “transphobic, misogynistic, defamatory and malicious content about members of the transgender community". According to this legal notice, the show “ridicules, trivialises and humourises the lived experiences of all women, including and especially transwomen, who face violence, abuse, discrimination and oppression on a daily basis".

Back to the show, Shivani is honest about her transition from the beginning of their relationship but Romanchak does not take her seriously when she speaks about the surgery. He assumes that she is making up a story to tease him. His goal is to get her drunk, seduce her and sleep with her. Beyond that, he has no interest in her life experiences at this point. After they get married, Romanchak wonders whether being sexually intimate with a trans woman makes him a gay man. Instead of facing his own fears and insecurities, Romanchak blames Shivani for being a fraud.

Soon after, Romanchak teams up with his friend to dig into Shivani’s past. What they discover is unsettling, and Romanchak is unprepared to navigate this situation with the maturity required of him. This part of the story ought to have been handled with tremendous care. However, it appears that the makers of the show have little understanding of the challenges faced by trans people in relation to dysphoria, deadnaming, families of origin, government records, and identification cards. And so, Romanchak does not respect Shivani’s privacy, and shares her personal details without consent.

The Trans Equality Society's legal notice provides a list of specific objections to the show, as well as the trailer. It indicates that this content violates the directions of the Supreme Court of India articulated in its landmark judgment in 2014 in the case of NALSA vs Union of India, with the aim of eliminating “discrimination and marginalisation of transgender persons". The body wants MX Player to take down the show and the trailer, and also issue a public apology on their website.

It remains to be seen whether the makers of Pati, Patni aur Panga will comply with the request.

In addition to this notice, a Change.org petition titled 'Ban the transmisogynistic web series Pati, Patni aur Panga' is also gaining traction. It holds the series responsible for promoting “the harmful idea that trans women are men until they get gender affirmative procedures". The principle of self-identification recognises that a person’s gender is not tied to their genitals but to the internal sense of who they are, and how they wish to present themselves. Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that all trans people are interested in or have the means for surgical procedures.

In the series, besides enduring the hurt of engaging with Romanchak’s family, Shivani is also let down by the legal system when her husband files for divorce. Lawyers are unwilling to take up her case, so she has to defend herself in court. Romanchak’s lawyer humiliates Shivani by harping on the reality that she cannot give birth to a biological child, and is thus depriving her in-laws of an heir. The lawyer also speaks crudely of Shivani’s body prior to transition, and makes unnecessary references to body hair, moustache, and a penis, so that he can influence the judge.

However, the most jarring aspect of Pati, Patni aur Panga is the fact that Romanchak and his mother are magically transformed into allies at the end. It is unclear as to how this happens so quickly after so much vitriol has already been spewed. But once the divorce papers are signed and Shivani starts working for an NGO that advocates for the rights of LGBTQIA people, two quick apologies fix everything that is broken. It becomes the trans woman’s job to assuage their guilt and help them feel better about themselves. This includes agreeing to marry Romanchak once again.

People who make shows involving trans characters have the power to represent them with dignity. Doing so will require time, effort, and research. There is an abundance of published material out there for people who wish to read and learn. Moreover, there are trans collectives — with several years of experience and expertise — that can be brought on board to serve as paid consultants. Going further, it is also important to think about hiring trans actors, trans directors, trans screenwriters and trans technicians to tell their own stories.

(Chintan Girish Modi is a writer, educator and researcher who tweets @chintan_connect)

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