Negha won the Kerala state film award for her performance in the Malayalam film ‘Antharam’.

Negha in a green sari and yellow-orange blouse sits, dressed up, against a faded yellow background, with her hands folded
Flix Interview Wednesday, June 22, 2022 - 16:14

"N-e-g-h-a." Negha spells out her name twice to make sure it does not come out wrong. People have been misspelling it at several places, she says, ever since she won a Kerala State Film Award this year. Negha S is from the south of Tamil Nadu, near Thanjavur, and has been living and working in Chennai for years. But her first award and the first notable role in a feature film has come from a Malayalam movie, Antharam. And for her performance in Antharam, she was announced the winner of a special award instituted by the Kerala government for films of women and transgender persons. Negha became the first trans woman to win the award.

She was working as a mental health counsellor at an NGO in Chennai when she slipped into the world of showbiz. “Director Balaji came to the NGO to conduct an audition for trans persons for a short film. I attended it and got cast in his film, Manam,” Negha says in an interview to TNM.

After that, a series of Tamil short films came her way, most of them to do with awareness about transgender communities. She also began modelling and anchoring television shows, while continuing her work at the NGO.

“Transgender people find it really hard to get accommodation. As an independent trans woman, I end up paying double the rent in places than what’s paid by cisgender, straight people. So I need to earn a lot more, and make use of every work opportunity that comes my way. I also had to pay for my gender affirmation surgeries,” Negha says.

Negha in Antharam

As she anchored for multiple channels – television and youtube – Negha wanted to be a voice of her community. “There was a time when trans people were largely misrepresented in the media. I want to fight that, fight it for my community. Media is a platform where people can learn things. It will help the upcoming generations if we remove such misrepresentations and transphobia in the media,” she says.

She also points out that every time a cisgender person enacts the role of a transgender person in a film, a trans person loses work opportunity. “There is so much inequality that we need to fight against and open the gates for the community. Now there are trans people in the police force, among engineering students and doctors and even judges,” she says.

Antharam, the Malayalam film that cast her in a lead role, had none of the misrepresentation she fought against, she says. The film’s director, P Abhijith, a photographer and documentary maker who has been working with LGBTQIA+ people, contacted Negha on social media through a mutual friend. “It was a big role and I told him I didn’t have the confidence, but he was sure about casting me.”

Still from Antharam

The film tells the story of a trans woman, Anjali, who gets married to a cis man, from the points of view of three different people including Anjali. “It has issues that most trans people go through. She can be from anywhere, Kerala or Tamil Nadu —after running away from home, she doesn’t have a place to call her own. But trans people need a home, a family, care, like everyone else. In the film, Abhijith shows what challenges come to a trans woman who begins a family.”

Kannan Nayar and Nakshatra Manoj play the two other lead characters in the film. On the day the award was announced for Negha, she received a call from Abhijith. “But I could not believe it at first, I hadn’t been aware that we even applied for the award. It is only when more members of the cast and crew called to congratulate me that the news sank in.”

By then she had already begun work for another feature film – a Tamil film called The Road, in which she plays an important role alongside Trisha and Miya George. “They have all been so nice about it, congratulating me,” Negha says.

For Negha, the work is never over. She is now part of another NGO, Trans Rights Now Collective, based in Chennai, working among Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi trans people, bringing awareness and attending to crises. She also posts on social media, to spread awareness against transphobia and misrepresentation of trans people in movies.

Also read: The small wins of good LGBTQIA+ representation in Bigg Boss Malayalam

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