︎︎︎ ︎︎︎

lipstick men

story of five transgender dancers from Calcutta

creative field(s)

Documentary Photography . Photojournalism


Photographs . Interviews . Graphic Design
Lightroom . Photoshop . Indesign

form and dimension

Limited Edition Book
10 x 08 x 1.7 cm . 100 gm . 96 pages






Calcutta of early 2009 wasn't kind towards effeminate men. A yearly pride walk notwithstanding, people deviating from heteronormative masculine standards were promptly marginalised and bullied. You encountered them often—in Bollywood films as the derided comic relief; in the drawing room discussions of the middle class as the exhibitionist and extortionist hijra; and in the ghoulish black-and-white photo essays of foreign photojournalists as MSM sex workers with high HIV risk. So when, on an assignment, I went with my conditioned hetero-uneasiness into the office of a not-for-profit organisation working with transgender members of the LGBTQI community, I was expecting only to photograph some clichés. What the othering had not prepared me for was the beauty, comraderie, and laughter I encountered. Intrigued, I went back. They invited me, indulged my ignorance, flirted with me, and eventually, as an accepted part of their group, ignored me.

Over time I got educated on how they took ownership of being kothi (a derogatory term for effeminate man). I learned how some kothis become laundas (dancing boys) not just from lack of better jobs but for their love of dancing. I was made aware how men in drag are not merely a cheap substitute for dancing girls for poor families from the interiors of UP and Bihar looking for a grand wedding. The patrons consider laundas auspicious. I also listened to their stories—of having to dance through the night; of sex with groups of men for pleasure or making extra money; of being cut, bitten or burnt with cigarettes; of being sometimes brutalised and even gang-raped. I saw them being catcalled and shunned in public by their more 'masculine' partners (called parikhs). For three years, as I followed five members of this community at different stages of their lives, I witnessed friendship, love, tenderness, jealousy, and drama. The camera and my inexperience have barely documented their colourful and sometimes tragic lives.

︎ click on the contact sheet for a full-screen view of the images

︎The project was developed and submitted as a dissertation/book while pursuing a Postgraduate Diploma in Photojournalism at the Ateneo de Manila University's Asian Center for Journalism on a Konrad Adenauer Fellowship and supported by the World Press Photo. Final jury members: Isabel Kenny and Dr DJ Clark. It was nominated for the 2012 Joop Swart Masterclass.

Jimmy Domingo (Mentor) . Prateebha Tuladhar (Writing Guidance) 

Photography . Editing . Interviews . Text . Graphic Design

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copyright © 2023 chhandak pradhan =︎︎ unless otherwise stated.
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