Posted September 14, 2023 1:55 pm ET
Updated September 14, 2023 1:57 pm ET
Sirat Taneja, subject and co-creator of Deepa Mehta’s new documentary “I Am Sirat,” landed in Toronto on Tuesday night, having traveled from her home in New Delhi and received something of a celebrity. Taneja is seen in an undated flyer photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Toronto International Film Festival
The star power may be on the rise at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but it doesn’t seem that way for Sirat Taneja.
The subject and co-creator of Deepa Mehta’s new documentary “I Am Sirat” landed in the city on Tuesday night, having traveled from her home in New Delhi, and received something of a celebrity.
She was greeted with a flood of messages on social media from people who attended screenings of the film held for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“They’ve all become such good friends of hers in Toronto,” Mehta said in an interview a day before the film’s world premiere Thursday, translating for Taneja, who was seated to her left.
“They Instagram her and say ‘when you come, you can borrow our jewelry.’ They all come to the screening and they all wanted to come to the airport yesterday. He’s never met them and they’ve become so close.”
They were moved, Mehta said, by Taneja’s story of living a double life.
On social media, in India’s Ministry of Social Defense, around the world, Taneja lives as her true self: a proud transgender woman. But at home with her mother, she retreats back into the closet and takes on the identity she was given at birth—an identity that never quite fit.
This duality is explored at length in the documentary, which was shot partly by Taneja – vertically, referencing the Instagram videos she’s been posting for years – and partly by Mehta, who held her smartphone camera horizontally.
Taneja tried to come to her mother once, she says in the film, but it didn’t go well. Her mother called Taneja’s uncles, who beat her. After that he returned to a partially closed life.
But social media has long felt like a place where she can be herself, posting videos of herself dancing and lip-syncing to Punjabi music.
“I started making wheels on Instagram because I really wanted to be seen,” Taneja said, translating for Mehta.
Now, ‘I Am Sirat’ is another way for Taneja to be seen.
Mehta says Taneja approached her about the idea for the documentary after they met on the set of “Leila,” a dystopian Hindi-language Netflix series in which Taneja played a security guard.
“She had no lines and every day I found myself giving her another line. She was so good,” Mehta said.
Taneja would hang around between takes, she recalls, and chat with Mehta.
The couple would visit during Mehta’s regular trips to New Delhi, and one day while they were spending time together, Mehta took out her phone and started videotaping something Taneja was saying about her story, and Taneja encouraged her to make a film. .
“I told her, ‘I think it will only work if you spin your own story. You’re in charge of your own narrative,” Mehta recalls.
Eventually, Taneja said, she hopes her mother will see the film, though she has no immediate plans to show it to her. Instead, she hopes her mother will hear about the film’s subject through the grapevine, learn about the support Taneja has received, and watch it herself.
“Maybe her mother will then understand what the dilemma is that she struggles with every day and be compassionate about it,” Mehta said.
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