Actress Alina Khan is an example to everyone she encounters. She is a trans woman living in Pakistan. Her challenges in life and her spirit of never giving up helped her gain recognition on the world stage at the Cannes Film Festival.
When speaking with BBC Urdu, it was an overwhelming moment for her to finally be seen but Alina revealed a lot about the not-so-pretty details of her journey and how while the recognition she received was amazing, it didn’t come without its own hurdles.
The film “Joyland” has been garnering positive feedback for placing trans people front and centre for the first time ever, and it was the first-ever Pakistani film to receive seven minutes of applause at the Cannes film festival. The film won a Jury prize as well.
The feature film was written and directed by Saim Sadiq. It is set in Lahore around a patriarchal family that thinks male children are superior to females. The plot develops when a family member develops feelings for Biba, a transgender person, disrupting their otherwise regular lives.
When she was younger and sought to leave her home, society was never welcoming.
“Most people treat the trans community as a joke,” she recalled, which always forced her to return home.
Alina persisted in seeking a home of her own until she encountered Lucky Khan, who introduced her to Neeli Rana and connected Khan to the rest of the trans community.
Khan’s problems continued even after she felt a sense of belonging. She immediately encountered financial issues that made it challenging for her to get by.
“In such a challenging situation, my hobby of dancing proved to be a ray of hope and I tried to make a living through it,” she explained.
Her acting ambitions were eventually achieved after a chance encounter with film director Sana Jafri at an NGO event. The two exchanged contact numbers.
“A few months later, my NGO called to ask if I was interested in auditioning for a short movie, titled Darling,” Alina said. “I had no idea how to audition but I still said yes.” She then auditioned in front of Saim Saddiq, the director of Darling. But he was not impressed.
Another actor was cast in the role. A few months later, Alina unexpectedly received a call from Sana Jafri informing her that the actor had been fired and that Alina had only five days to prepare for the part.
That was the beginning of her acting career.
“As a child, I would wear a dupatta (scarf) and dance around my house,” Khan recalled, “My father used to say that I would become an actor. Allah turned his words into reality.”
Alina also discussed her preparation for the role of Biba and the steps she took to feel genuinely connected to the character:
“I was very fond of acting since I was a child, but I wasn’t sure that there would be any opportunities available for trans women to work on screen. But when Saim offered me the chance to work on this film, I made sure to leave all of my other commitments behind so I could give this role everything that I have. Saim would give me the script, and I would closely go over every line and study it closely to see what it reveals about Biba’s character.”
Alina added that she hoped her movie would contribute to Pakistanis’ acceptance of transgender people as full citizens, enabling more trans women to live with their families and lead regular lives:
“Because I am a trans, I have grown up facing a lot of stigma, even from my own house. My own brother and sisters would call me the slur, khusra. But through this film, I want people to accept trans women into their families, and show them that just like me, they want to live with their families and just have normal lives.”
“My parents have begun to accept me for who I am and have seen that being a trans woman isn’t only about prostitution or begging, but there are trans women who are working in fields like acting and are making a lot of money and are famous worldwide,” said Alina
Here is the video of her interview with BBC Urdu