Malayalam cinema gets its first transgender playback singer
Despite no formal training in classical music, Charulatha has sung two songs in the upcoming Malayalam anthology movie 'Neethi' (Justice) and the director is very happy with her work

Malayalam cinema gets its first transgender playback singer

RLV Charulatha, who is a noted classical dancer and transgender activist, says that she became a playback singer by accident

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It is her passion for singing that saw her through her battles with gender issues and identity crisis and eventually led her onto the path to fame.

RLV Charulatha, who is primarily a noted classical dancer and transgender activist, is now in the limelight for being the first transgender playback singer in the Malayalam film industry.

Unable to contain her joy and excitement of being part of tinsel town as a playback singer, Charulatha in an interview to PTI first crooned two songs in the upcoming anthology movie Neethi (Justice) - one solo and a 'jalsa' song. The jalsa number is also considered to be the first such in Malayalam.

'Jalsa' is a ritual performed by the trans community when a person switches to a different gender and the community members in the state have so far used a Hindi or Kannada song during the time of the function because of the lack of a dedicated song in Malayalam.

Playback singer by chance

"I am an accidental playback singer by all means. I have been a dancer since I was young and never imagined that I would ever be known as a singer," said Charulatha who has always been enthralled with classical dance since childhood.

She said she chanced upon an advertisement inviting transgender singers and had applied for it without any hope.

Directed by Dr Jessy Kuthanur, the movie Neethi is an anthology of three films that revolves around the struggle of three marginalised sections, tribals, gay community and transgenders, to get their fundamental rights fulfilled.

The artist said the hero and heroine of the movie are also transpersons and the director of the movie was particular that a TG person should lend the voice to the songs.

No formal training in classical music

"Playback singing was not easy for me. Though I have learnt music in my childhood days, I had no formal training in classical music," Charulatha said.

She said it took hours for the music director Krishna Prasad to teach her the nuances of the song and brought out what he really wanted.

"But, when I listened to the recorded song for the first time, my heart brimmed with happiness and pride. My hardwork and that of the entire team paid-off," the dancer-turned-singer said.

Facing challenges

A post-graduate in dance from the renowned RLV College of Music and Fine Arts in Tripunithura, Charulatha said that she was ready to accept more offers that come her way in the film industry but would not give up dance for any reason.

Even though she had completed her studies years before coming out as a transgender, she was ridiculed and isolated by fellow students.

"I completed my studies in 2015. I joined the institution as a male student. Though I was yet to reveal my gender identity then, my trans persona was evident through my mannerisms. Many fellow students mocked at me," she said.

Fighting all odds, she managed to finish the course by securing first class.

Charulatha recalled that almost a decade ago, majority of transgenders in the state did not dare to reveal their identity.

It was only after 2017, following the effective implementation of the state Transgender policy that marginalised groups started coming forward, the transwoman added.

Immense support

Hailing from Neeleswaram in the northernmost Kasaragod district, Charulatha has been receiving immense support from her community for her new role as a singer.

But, there are several persons in the society who are still reluctant to accept and recognise her talent just because she is a transperson, the 34-year-old artist added.

At present, Charulatha is running two dance schools under the name 'Natya Dharmi' in her hometown. She also built her own house with the hard-earned money.

"Initially, I faced issues in my family when I revealed my gender identity. But, now everyone is very supportive. My mother and I are living in my new house," Charulatha added.

Meanwhile, 'Neethi' director Jessy Kuthanur was all praise for Charulatha's work.

"I was not looking for a male or a female voice for this particular song. What I wanted was something in between the two. The song was a lullaby... a communication between a mother and a child," he told PTI.

Charulatha was chosen from over 18 applicants.

The filmmaker also said that the trans singer took pains to bring out her best.

"It took nearly 10 hours to record the song. Her voice used to get modulated due to the hormone medicines she is taking," he said.

Noting that it is a good song and people would like it when the movie is released, the director said the singer has a good chance of winning an award.

Official song of transgender community

The "jalsa" song in the movie was sung jointly by Charulatha and Varshanandhini, another trans woman from Palakkad district.

It has already been accepted as the official song by the transgender community in the state.

The film's premiere would be held on September 28 and it would be released in all major theatres in the state later, he added.

Also an LGBT activist, Kuthanur is a practicing clinical psychologist specialising in issues relating to marginalised groups.

(With inputs from agencies)

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