Shyraa Roy is upcoming film Sanak’s lead but her path was filled with struggles every trans actor has to go through

The psychological thriller, in which Miss Trans Pakistan plays the role of a popular celebrity, is currently in the shooting phase.
Updated 12 Dec, 2022

Miss Trans Pakistan Shyraa Roy may be known for her modelling but did you know she can also act? Roy has got some exciting projects lined up, the first of which is already in action — she is currently shooting for upcoming psychological thriller Sanak, in which she plays the main lead. She traced her journey to where she is and talked to Images about her recent de-nomination by the LSA and the hindrances she has faced on her way here.

Connected to the Urdu word sanki, Sanak means strange and unconventional behaviour. The film is the story of a psychopath, Roy revealed. “My character’s name is Samaira Khan, she is a popular actor on the same level as Mahira Khan from Pakistan or Bollywood’s Deepika Padukone. She is one of the biggest stars in town and has millions of fans. This is my role, I play the lead, the main heroine of the film.”

The model explained the premise for the film expected to release next year. “The story is about this mentally unstable guy Zafar Minhas who is in love with Samaira; he’s a crazy fan of hers. But he is so unstable that he murdered his parents when he was 12,” she said. “Now, to get to me, he tries to kill anyone who’s near and dear to me, for example, my father, my sister and my manager.”

Roy said though the film comes under the folds of dark cinema — there’s something that keeps you hooked. She believes it’s the element of genius in how creatively the gruesome murders are executed. The model also thinks the contrast between the killer’s personality and his actions is something that tugs at your heart while confusing your brain.

Directed by Hassan Fareed and written by Indian director Vikram Bhatt, the film mixes showbiz and mental trauma. Complete with “some beautiful songs”, its cast also includes Muneeb Ali, Murad Kazmi, Resham, Javed Sheikh, Beenish George, and more. “The film will release by March or April, we are currently shooting and plan on dropping the first teaser by the end of December or the beginning of January,” she added.

Roy feels that playing the lead is a huge responsibility, especially in a cinema industry like Pakistan’s. Commenting on the ban on her friend Alina Khan’s film Joyland, the model chose to look at the bright side, talking instead about all the love Joyland has received at international film festivals. Her own team is then, naturally, targeting the Pakistani cinema as well as the international market.

Miss Trans Pakistan feels that the backlash Joyland received was baseless because “the film had different flavours and different stories — solely targeting the trans community is easy”. Posing a series of questions, she asked, “Tell me, can a man not fall in love with a khwajasira? Does a khwajasira not have a heart or feelings? And in today’s world, there are so many men in love with khwajasiras. So if the film is depicting a real factor, of a very spiritual love — he cares about her and is concerned about her — is there really that big of an issue to prompt such backlash?”

She feels that a shift in Pakistani cinema is very much needed. “How much longer will we keep real life stories away from cinema? How long will we keep representing fictional stories and rom-coms? Are our people so insecure that they don’t know what films they should go watch? Is their decision-making that weak?”

Though Roy does not anticipate the same kind of criticism for Sanak as she saw for Joyland — where the emphasis is on human relationships — she does see a possibility of people having issues with a trans woman playing a cisgender woman. As a prelude to the criticism, she gave examples of all the cisgender actors who have played trans characters and been lauded for it, such as Bollywood actor Vaani Kapoor in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Sushmita Sen’s upcoming film Taali and Pakistani actor Nayyar Ejaz in Shanakht. “If so many of these actors have depicted trans people, can a trans girl not depict a [cisgender] woman? If she is able to represent them, she can. I am portraying the image of an actor, not my sexuality,” she said.

Roy is also a singer — good enough to get nominated at the LSAs, in fact. When asked about the struggles of a trans person in the Pakistani industry, she told us about a very recent injustice she buried silently.

The model’s song ‘Kamli’ with Mohsin Abbas Haider made it into the nomination list this year. After being invited to attend the ceremony, she flew to Pakistan from Dubai a month before she was coming here to film Sanak and moved the schedule around to start early. She paid for travel and accommodation herself and booked her grooming team, makeup team and photographer, her designer dress ready, all in preparation for her first award nomination. Then at the last moment, she said she received a message telling her she is being de-nominated because “there is an issue regarding trans people currently”.

“I cried for a good two hours, you know why? Because my friends were expecting me to be on the red carpet and I had my entire team ready, my family expected to be there. Winning or losing aside, at least I would be representing my community at such a big platform. And I could have made a lot of fuss by going public with it but I didn’t see the point in that,” she explained.

Adding to the challenges that trans people face, she said even big brands discriminate against them, unwilling to pay them for their work. “They just want to show that they are representing trans people in a sensitive way for the brand’s image. So many clothing brands who have the means to pay us — many who, I believe, would pay other actors lacs or whatever they ask for — leave us with an apology and say even associating us with their brand is a big enough deal. They don’t pay us our dues, something we rightfully deserve.”

Sharing some disturbing casting experiences, she said that men ask her very inappropriate questions — similar to the ones thrown at Biba in Joyland. “They think trans actors are sex objects, to be honest with you. First of all, the questions they ask are very personal, like what’s between your legs? I have been asked this by drama casters and there is a very famous writer I will not name who has asked me this too.

“It is very awkward and difficult and I have had to zone out to answer such questions. One time I fought with them and blocked the person and another time I straight up walked out of the meeting. Casting is a very far off thing, first they attack your body. They want to know each and every process, when we got it done, how it felt, our sexual preferences, all these stupid questions. They ask when did you realise you’re trans and have even said that I totally look like a girl so what do I have underneath,” she said, adding that these things that are both problematic and traumatising to face.

Roy said she’s not interested in working in Pakistani dramas as trans people are presented as a joke while women constantly face humiliation and domestic violence. She does not see space for her community here but has hope where the international industry is concerned.