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A screen grab from the music video
A screen grab from the music video

Because they’re happy (or so you’re supposed to believe)

A music video by India's supposedly first transgender band has already garnered 4 lakh views in a day, and it doesn't address gender equality at all

“Y-Films launches India’s first transgender band, the Brooke Bond Red Label 6 Pack Band. The 6 Pack Band comprises six transgender singers hailing from India’s Hijra community. It’s an initiative created and driven by Y-Films, the youth wing of Yash Raj Films, to help further the cause of gender equality in India."

A music band usually doesn’t have a brand before its name (Levi’s Maroon 5, anyone? Lakme’s Dire Straits?), but this one does. That’s because this isn’t just a band. It’s a commercial venture that’s decided to take up a Cause.

So far, so not very strange.

The Cause that YFilms decides to espouse is one of social injustice towards the third gender of whom there are many communities in India, including hijras. The note above states that the initiative is meant to “further the cause of gender equality in India". That probably explains the lyrics, “When your girlfriend gives you grief… the wife asks for the sun, moon and stars… Be happy, sing, dance, come and clap along."

Actor Anushka Sharma’s solicitous voice over at the beginning of the video explains how the third gender (conveniently collapsed with hijras as being one and the same) is treated in India: “Ignored by most. Tolerated by some. Misunderstood by all". The chorus of the song takes the trope most commonly associated with hijras, the clap, and celebrates it a symbol of their resilience in the face of adversity. Then the chorus goes on to say, “Be happy… the world ain’t gonna cry with you."

What?

So basically, the video shows members of the hijra community asking you to be happy like them, and dance and sing, because when things go bad and the world shuns them, that’s what they do? This is the attitude that reduces a community to a stereotype.

Making a music video on a pop song that goes, Because I’m happy—good god, the irony—is exactly the sort of understanding that glosses over context and makes it hard for third gender communities to survive in a heteronormative society. The video’s intended audience is the cis-gendered middle class man. According to the lyrics, here are some of the things that go bad for him: Wives and girlfriends trouble him. Inflation. Fuel costs higher than the vehicle. His boss bites off his head.

Let’s see what the lyrics say about what goes wrong for the hijra community.

Nothing.

Let’s call this video for what it is—commercial co-opting of a community of people whose lives are filled with violence, sexual abuse, betrayal by natal families, and the sheer improbability of the sort of happiness that cis-gendered heterosexuals take for granted.

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