Beyond Paatal Lok, the pain and progress of transgender people in Manipur

Paatal Lok, Mairembam Singh
For Mairembam Ronaldo Singh, the “role of a lifetime” in Paatal Lok is close to her heart also because she got to express herself through her character | Still from Paatal Lok

Sometime in early May, as the evening descended into full darkness in Imphal, the quiet emptiness of a town under coronavirus lockdown was broken by a strange buzz on almost everyone’s lips. Huddled inside their homes, most residents by then had either heard or watched a web series, Paatal Lok, streaming on Amazon Prime. But the townsfolk were particularly interested in one character — Cheeni, or Mary Lyngdoh — played by Manipur’s Mairembam Ronaldo Singh.

Some were in awe, some intrigued while many celebrated the fact that for the first time in mainstream entertainment (a web series) in India, a transgender woman played a transgender character.

The issue —  that trans roles on screen be played by trans people — has of late been much debated. Mainstream cinema/TV/web shows in India are notorious for stereotyping transgender people, often with cisgender actors playing transgender characters.

So, when Paatal Lok got it right, the nine-episode web series is now being hailed as a landmark moment for LGBTQ+ representation on screen in India.

To continue reading this article...

You have to be a Premium Subscriber

Start your subscription with a free trial

Enjoy unlimited Eighth column, archives and games on
The and The Federal APP and many more features.
You will also be supporting ethical and unbiased journalism.
After trial subscription plans start from Rs. 99
Get breaking news and latest updates from India
and around the world on