Saturday, 8 February 2014

Interview with Rose Venkatesan


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Rose Venkatesan, an Indian talk show host and celebrity, filmmaker, politician and transgender activist. Hello Rose!
Rose: Hello Monika!
Monika: Rose, having so many talents, which fields you are most interested in: talk show hosting, radio, film making, politics, transgender activism or maybe something different?
Rose: I prefer film making to everything else, as it gives me the opportunity and almost total freedom to say what I want to say, to bring out that women/transwomen’s perspective to the Indian movie, which is largely a patriarchal, male-centered, male-glorifying, gay-ridiculing, trans-ridiculing, female-abusive item of entertainment.
I have tried my hands at TV, radio and politics, all of which force you to work under or for a male owner/controller, who himself has many of the same prejudices that I wish to fight/expose/expel. The entertainment industry/politics in India is highly sexploitative of women and any transwomen that might want to make it up the ladder.
Monika: You made your television debut in 2008 in the talk show titled Ippadikku Rose (Yours truly, Rose), which dealt with a wide variety of social issues such as traditions, taboos, rebels and culture. How do you recollect your first television work?
Rose: It was a time of my life where transgenderism was pushed out into the forefront in Tamil Nadu, a Southern Indian state. I couldn’t handle well the sudden outpouring of attention to me by the media. It was really a time period of extremes- in family rebellion against my TV appearance in my own identity leading up to shunning of me, in media attention as I was constantly being asked for one interview or another repeating the same narrative of my life history to the point of boredom, being identified and venerated by the general public, the sudden increase in men’s sexual attention to a beautiful transsexual celebrity expressed in constant phone call tortures and sometimes even journalists themselves asking me out in weird ways instead of just interviewing me and leaving.
Just having a good time.
Monika: Then in 2009 you hosted another TV talk show “Idhu Rose Neram” (This is Rose Time)…
Rose: Ippadikku Rose was dropped by the network which first hired me-Star Vijay TV, the most popular network among the middle and upper classes and especially the youth, after about a year of airing, quite unlike how many other shows are continued for years using the same anchor while dropping a transsexual anchor in such a short period, despite the low budget of the show’s production and mass appeal of the show in contrast to the high expenditure required to produce other shows which fared the same in ratings or less than the transsexual show.
I saw an element of transgender discrimination, despite the media hyping and the oh-we-treat-transgender-as-an-equal-anchor attitude that they projected out to the media. I ended up running to another network, which wouldn’t produce the show, but gave me free air time to run my own-production-Idhu Rose Neram. 
The politically aligned network, with its own inner political divides, each in favor of the different possible leader son of the then-leader of the political party that the network worked for, got me somewhat embroiled in the petty family politics as one group would oppose my show as it was approved and accepted into the network by the other group. 
Nevertheless, it was a struggle to produce my own show with limited self-funds and to market the show with my almost-nill full time staff. The show went off air as the network signed it off.
Monika: Your TV projects finished in 2010 when you started working as a radio jockey. Could you say a few words about it?
Rose: The Radio Jockey option came to me on its own. I was publicized as a radio counselor for people dealing with personal emotional struggles. The show was taken off air and me removed within a few weeks of the resignation of the lady Operations Head who took me on board. Here again I faced the receiving side of corporate use/abuse of a transsexual person and sudden dropping of her. 
Directing on location.
Monika: However, it seems that film making is your favourite art …
Rose: After all the use and throw attitude expressed by the corporate media, which would anyways not allow me to express some of the deeply-cherished issues and points of view that I wanted to express originally using the media, I decided to be an independent film director without any corporate control would be my best way to express those issues. I started my journey to becoming a film director and allowing this passion to grow and gained some skills in this department of art.
Finding a producer would be very hard as it is for a woman director, even more so for a transsexual director, although sexual exploitation was always waiting for me at the doorstep of nearly every producer I wished to see. So, I avoided ‘searching’ for producers. I tried to find other possible ways such as LGBT/women’s film funds etc, without any success.
So I simply waited it out pushing the passion of film making to the recesses of my pursuits until a childhood friend of mine named Senthil, a distant male cousin, changed my course with his newfound interest in film production coinciding with the reunion of us after years of separation from family circles. He was not strong enough financially, but with hard struggles, he managed to fund the film to completion and the film is ready for release at this time.
Cricket Scandal is a film about cricket controversies in India’s major cricket league with subplots touching upon transsexual and gay romance, rather unusual for the Indian movie screen, as it’s used to displaying transgender/gay characters only as items to be laughed at or as evildoers. Now, to get the film to the screens is another huge step, which is financially intensive and unable to be handled by my nearly bankrupt producer, but we are trying hard in whatever ways we can to bring the film to screens.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Rose: I am simply waiting for the right circumstances to get Cricket Scandal out and based on its success, I may roll out my other projects that I have mentally planned out.


Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Rose: Not many Indian ones. I used the Internet to do a lot of research about HRT and surgery. I found Thailand to be the best option to get my final surgery, which I saved for and eventually did in March, 2010.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Rose: The hardest for me was of course deciding that I was indeed a woman in the wrong body and to come to terms with that fact myself. Equally though:- The constant unwanted attention, the constant stares while out in public, the constant nagging from family, the constant pressure from family to marry a woman and be a normal man, the constant sexual advances in the most annoying of ways by men, the constant view-with-fear that women seemed to put out vis-à-vis me, the constant media and social caricaturing of transsexuals are only cheap sex objects, worthless humans etc.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the Indian society?
Rose: India is changing rapidly, thanks to the Internet. This change is not only within the LGBT movement. India is evolving fast in every human rights area and sexuality perspectives are changing fast to be more accommodating of all expressions of human sexuality. The old is fast losing ground but it is attacking with its own intense vigor, but it’s sure to lose out.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Rose: Of course, trans people, especially transwomen are a big boost to women’s rights and sexual rights movements, because they are very bold in India as they haven’t got anything more to lose.
Monika: In 2012,you intended to establish a political party “The Sexual Liberation Party of India” that would promote sexual freedom and rights of women and LGBT people. Was the project successful?
Rose: Nope in reality for a variety of reasons, obviously to do with political alignments of existing media and the inability to secure funds for mobilization on my part. But it was a political statement and I sense the possibility for its revival and mass acceptance is in the air.
Monika: Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Rose: OH YES! Sexuality will be celebrated in this sexually repressive country if transgender women come to power.


Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Rose: I am a serial dater. It’s because most Indian men are social slaves, but most Indian women want to love ts women to most men, but only secretly. The ones that I do find interesting end up ruining the relationship either because they cheat me or because they want to keep the relationship a secret, which I have grown to hate too much. But I date and love one nice man at a time, even if it’s just for a day, and if he fails I move on to the next nice man in the block. Actually, I am surrounded by love, but scared men.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Rose:I love fashion at times. I love designing myself, love wearing tailor-made clothes that hug the curves and align perfectly around them. But, half the time I couldn’t care less about what I wear. It’s more of a pendulum moving half the time into fashion and the rest of the time into total simplicity.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Rose: Boring! Inducing the sick consumerist, perfection-manic mindset that is so cliché with women, as it is. I hate beauty pageants, as it is, for me. I hate all competitions among humans. The competitive mindset that we have all been trained/indoctrinated to adopt is the reason transgender people have been dumped outside society and forced to survive and abused all the time. Humanity has to collaborate, not compete.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Rose: I pour out my views/emotions on Facebook. I did wanna write books too, an autobiography and at least one other- Sexual Hypocrisy in India.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls dreaming about such a career as yours?
Rose: It takes a lot of self-love, hard work, patience, fitness/beauty conscience and a long-term positive attitude and great manners too. A pleasant personality is a plus. Feeling low about oneself because of ts identity is a no-no for an achiever.
Monika: Rose, thank you for the interview!
Rose: Thank you for your work for the ts community.

All the photos: courtesy of Rose Venkatesan.
Done on 8 February 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

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