The ice breaks when I mispronounce Peranbu, the new Tamil film that’s won some pats for itself at festivals outside India, and recently in Goa. Till then Anjali Ameer had sounded serious, the wariness of speaking to a stranger over phone. But then she laughs freely, “It is Per-anbu, not Per-aan-bu. But don’t ask me the meaning. It is something like unconditional love,” she says, trailing off dreamily. For the record, Peranbu means 'great love'.
She is in Chennai now, for another shooting. And Kerala-born-and-raised Anjali is already fluent in Tamil. Ask her to speak one line in Tamil, and she’d say let’s make the whole conversation in Tamil. And Peranbu is her first Tamil film, acting with a man she’s been hearing so much about ever since she can remember.
“Mammootty, yes, I am a fan, too. Mammootty and Mohanlal are the names you hear about since the time of your birth,” Anjali says. But she has another reason to be grateful to Mammootty. He was the one who had suggested her name to director Ram when he was looking for someone to play a trans woman’s character in Peranbu. Anjali is a trans woman, so it made sense to cast her rather than a male actor dressed up as a woman, as has been the practice.
But that story is old now. How Mammootty met Anjali in a television show, and was so impressed by her that he made the recommendation. For Peranbu, Anjali turned into Meera, a person who comes into the lives of the characters played by Mammootty and his on screen daughter played by Sadhana.
However, television shows have not always been a boon for Anjali. She had recently participated in the Malayalam Bigg Boss, hosted by Mohanlal. Something she said on the show has hurt the trans community, she says, and she is very upset about it.
“It is a misunderstanding. We are taped for 24 hours but it is only the short, edited version of an hour that you see on the show. So some of the lines you say can be taken out of context. It was something about sex work, and something I said against it. Many in the trans community end up doing sex work for their livelihood. All of us have gone through different, difficult circumstances and none of us is in a position to criticise or judge each other. I am very sad about this, many in the community don’t talk to me now. I want to say sorry to all those who had felt hurt by anything I said,” Anjali says.
Speaking more on the struggles of the community, Anjali says, “You need money, lots of money (for hormones and laser treatment). Many in the trans community are not educated, very few have jobs. To top it all, there is the discrimination you face from the society and at your own home. I could never accuse anyone from the community for the work they do, you know that, right?” she asks.
She doesn’t, however, dwell on the past, the denied acceptance, the uncaring attitudes from the society. She says instead, with a small laugh, “Not many have hurt me. If there’s been any hurt at all, it might have been caused by me. We always need problems in life to be stubborn about winning. When you are alone in life, you will take care of yourself."
Modelling and the show business are what Anjali began working on as a teenager, finishing her tenth standard board exams in 2010. With the help of a mentor-like person called Santhosh. “He groomed me and even now does my makeup. He is a guardian for me, my parent, my brother,” Anjali says.
She speaks with similar respect for director Ram, a man whom she describes as carrying his movies in his mind.
“His movies are in his mind, so on the spot, he’d tell you the dialogue to say. I play a sentimental character (in Peranbu). There is crying, but no glycerin. I would be walking around the sets cheerfully when he’d suddenly call me and tell me that it is a scene where I cry!” she says.
When Anjali watched Kattradhu Tamizh and Thanga Meengal, she was so overwhelmed that she would get to work in a film by this director.
“The crew was good too, it was all very homely," she shares.
Anjali has acted in Malayalam as well – Suvarna Purushan, a film about Mohanlal fans, and Soochiyum Noolum. And now there is a Telugu film happening, but she can’t talk about it yet.