Living Smile Vidya
Living Smile Vidya
|Born||March 25, 1982|
|Occupation||Actor, writer, transgender activist|
She described her family as belonging to the Arunthatiyar caste in Andhra Pradesh, migrating to Chennai several generations ago. Her mother, a Dalit woman, worked as a street cleaner, in addition to domestic work. As a child, she described herself as being "a woman in my heart…even as I was being given male privilege.…I was mistaken to be male and couldn’t yet articulate that I was a girl and so I was educated much more than my sisters." In a 2013 interview, Smiley traces the roots of her public art and activism to her realization that "since all women get oppressed under patriarchy, and trans women and dalit women through the combined might of patriarchy with casteism and transphobia, I might as well have a loud mouth and be assertive than take everything silently – to be a strong but silent woman was not enough."
Vidya holds a master's degree from Tanjavur Tamil University in applied linguistics. In an 2014 interview, she said "while doing my post-graduation at university, I spent most of the time in the Theater Department rather than my Linguistics Department…So I was able to do a couple of plays."
After she moved away from Thanjavur, she begged for a living. After gender-reassignment surgery, she settled in Tamil Nadu, where she began her career working for two years at a rural bank in Madurai, and got involved with theatre.
Film and theatre
Smiley has been described as the first full-time trans theater actress in India, participating in over twenty performances with at least nine directors. According to Orinam, Smiley known for her acting if Srijith Sundaram's Kattiyakkaari production Molagapodi.
She has acted in several short films, including Kandal Pookkal and 500 & 5, and in documentary films Aghrinaigal and Butterfly. She acted in Leena Manimekalai's 2017 film Is it Too Much to Ask?, where she plays a trans woman seeking housing in Chennai, but facing discrimination; the film, a mix of fiction and documentary, was based in part on her own extensive experiences with housing discrimination.
In 2013, Smiley was awarded a scholarship by the Charles Wallace India Trust to pursue theatre in the UK. She spent six months of theater training at the London International School of Performing Arts.
In 2014, Smiley co-founded the Panmai theatre troupe in Tamil Nadu, along with fellow trans activists Angel Glady and Gee Imaan Semmalar, inspired in part by cultural groups she saw in London. Panmai's productions included Colour of Trans 2.0, which has been performed in India and the United States.
She was one of several trans people who approached the Madras High Court asking for a 3% reservation under a new category. “When parents see a transgender child," she said, "they think of begging or sex work as their future. How will they accept their own children if these are their only options?” In a 2013 interview, she said "We need reservation on the basis of gender, not caste. But it has to be more complex. But I definitely do not want to be OBC. And you will understand why as a dalit, I do not want to come under the OBC category of all things! Puttings transgenders under a oppressed caste category erases the caste priviliges that savarna transgenders have. It is better for us to have caste and gender based reservation so that dalit women and dalit transgenders get representation. Otherwise reservation will only benefit savarna transgenders and dalit men."
Autobiography and film
Smiley's autobiography I Am Vidya was written in Tamil, and translated into seven languages, including English, Malayalam, Marathi, and Kannada. She was the subject of the award-winning Kannada documentary Naanu Avanalla...Avalu, based on her autobiography of the same name.
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- Vidya, Living Smile (1 November 2014). I Am Vidya: A Transgender's Journey. Rupa Publications. ISBN 9788129123985.
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