The trailer is short, about a minute and a half. But it conveys why Jayasurya is in a sari. It’s not the man-dressed-as-woman Mrs Doubtfire kind of a film. Not a Mayamohini. Njan Marykutty is about a woman trapped in a man’s body.
“The subject has been on my mind for a couple of years now. But I have been a little wary about making a film on it, how it will be seen. Even a small mistake might bring a lot of criticism,” says director Ranjith Sankar, a week before the film’s release. The idea came to him on the sets of Pretham, when actor Pearly Maaney walked in with a few trans persons, who worked as makeup artistes. That’s the first time Ranjith met with and spoke to trans persons. He realised that he knew little about the transgender community.
Ranjith held on to the idea, even as he became more aware of the community - there was a trans person on a magazine’s cover, the news of a trans woman turning heroine in a Mammootty film, and of trans people working for the Kochi metro.
“Simultaneously, there were also many stories of attacks on them. I thought it was time I surpassed my fear and made this film,” Ranjith says. What finally made him take the plunge was a trip to a foreign country where, by chance, he came across quite a few trans people – his driver, tourist guide and shop owner. He saw that they were all living a life without fear of society. A world away from the society he was used to.
Asked why he did not cast a trans actor in the film instead of a cis man, Ranjith says, "Not that there isn’t talent, but finding actors from the community is not easy, because we, as a society, tend to drive them away. We don’t support them. We don’t give them space. It was also very important to cast a really skilled actor for the role. It is one of the toughest characters to play. And Jayan was there from the beginning,” Ranjith says.
Jayasurya has gone through a lot of preparation for the role, reveals Ranjith. He wore saris at home for days. He slept and woke up in them. He went to the extent of piercing his ears without being asked.
“We also met a lot of people. It is not easy to understand another’s point of view. Just like it was difficult for me to present a woman’s point of view in Ramante Edan Thottam,” shares Ranjith.
But even after all that preparation, it still wasn't easy when the shooting began. The makeup would go off when they stepped outdoors. Jaysurya had to shave three times a day, which meant doing over the makeup that many times. There’d be five or six costume changes in a day.
“Going to the toilet wearing a sari was not easy. He still has body rashes from all that work, but that’s the kind of committed actor Jayasurya is," he says.
Ranjith feels that the experiences of trans people make them more insightful and sensitive people. Imagine living for 20 to 25 years as a man or a woman when they feel another way, he says.
“You would never be able to guess. What we consider to be a big thing may be of little value to them and vice versa. Like a letter they get in their name is big for them - it is about establishing a name and self-respect. I have tried to portray this,” Ranjith says.