It was in 2013 that Vaani Kapoor made her entry into Bollywood with Shuddh Desi Romance, but it wasn’t until last month’s release, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, that the actress had her breakthrough role. Vaani played the part of a trans-woman in the film opposite Ayushmann Khurrana and I remember falling in love with her portrayal as I saw the film on the big screen. The nuances she had picked for her character were so raw and relatable that I couldn’t help but be in awe of her.

So, as I spoke to Vaani about her process of diving into the part of a trans-woman, she shares that even though she couldn’t meet anyone from the community physically due to Covid, she did speak to a lot of them virtually to get the portrayal right.

She shares,

“I did video calls with them about whatever they wanted to share about their life, their struggle, their journey, and there’s so much to it. I got a big insight from those conversations. Then I went through interviews, documentaries and international movies that all gave me a lot of in depth knowledge that I could as a cis-het girl. It’s all about your headspace and if you can empathize. And at the end of the day, we are all human beings with the similar emotions. I might not have, of course, lived that journey, I have not walked a mile in their shoes, and I fully understand that. But I honestly tried to play it from someplace right in my heart with honesty and with earnestness, and with a huge, tremendous responsibility that I felt.”

In one of her interviews Vaani had said that she hopes that a cis-het girl never has to play such a part again and she still stands by it. But did she have that same apprehension when the role first came to her?

Vaani responds,

“From the conversation that I had with Abhishek Kapoor, I got enough clarity that he wants to make a film, which firstly gets normalized, and accepted by all kinds of audiences. Some progressive minds will get it, but what about the rest of the people who you want to educate through that cinema? Till now, our reference points have been either men draping women’s attire, or vice versa, where they are either butt of the joke or they make it look different and not normal. That preconceived notion, that mindset that had to be attacked.

Our attempt could be just a conversation starter, it’s like a baby step towards it. But we wanted this to reach everyone, which is why I think Gattu even made it into an entertaining film. That’s why I think he ensured that it’s not preachy or looks like a dark film. It’s a fun, comedy film and this is how it should be no? It’s a beautiful love story between a cis heterosexual man and a trans girl.”

As I ask Vaani about her knowledge about the trans-community prior to Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, the actress gives me an honest answer.

She opens up,

“Of course, you subliminally know the struggles one faces and the complexities the life has to offer. But I have not lived that life, so I didn’t know the depth of it. I went through interviews from the 1990s to the 2000s and till now, and I have seen an evolution, even in the interviewers. The undertone has changed. There was so much of judgment, an undertone opinion that even interviewers had while speaking to them. When people from the community do these kinds of interviews as a trans-girl or as a trans-man, they have to put themselves out there for people to have a conversation about their private life and their intimate private parts, things that in an ideal world, no one wants to discuss. So, I felt like that they’re so strong, brave and wise. The kind of life choices one has to make, makes them so much more evolved and wiser than cis people.”

And that impression is what shaped up Maanvi on screen, as Vaani shares that she and Abhishek had a clear idea about the kind of representation they wanted to give.

She asserts,

“Me and Gattu both spoke about it that we didn’t want Maanvi to be victimized. She’s a very brave girl who has made very brave, courageous choices for herself and she’s somebody who has the potential to back herself when nobody else does. She comes with that school of conviction. We didn’t want her to become this soppy person who’s just not sure and who needs someone’s support. There’s this dialogue between Manu and Maanvi where he says what if I can’t support you, and she’s like, but I can look out for myself. So, I feel like she’s someone who is empowered. She’s just looking for a self of belonging, and rightly so, because the society also needs to be more inclusive as these are basic rights.”

I lost my heart to Vaani when I saw her as Maanvi on screen in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui as her portrayal had that nuance and connect with me. The role has been a revelation for the actress and I am sure that with her work, going forward, she will just raise the bar that she has set with Maanvi.