Imphal, Sep 21 (IANS): She is attractive. She is accomplished. And among Manipuris, she is a celebrity and a household name -- a star who straddles the world of cinema and theatre. She is also a transgender.
Meet Bishesh Huirem, 27, who is now all set to take her fame far beyond Manipur and the Manipuri-speaking areas of neighbouring Assam, Bangladesh and Myanmar when she sashays down the ramp at the Miss International Queen beauty contest in Thailand on November 9.
Huirem is one of the 30 shortlisted candidates from among the thousands who applied for the global contest to be held at Chonburi, Thailand.
The beauty pageant is exclusively for transgender women and has been held annually since 2004. It aims to create awareness about transgenders and encourage equal treatment for them.
A graduate in Fashion and Apparel Designing from Bangalore University and one of the highest-paid artistes in Manipuri films and its active mobile theatre fraternity, Bishesh clearly has it in her to make an impression on the judges.
Apart from standout looks and an outgoing personality, she has what the pageant seeks as a required qualification: talent in any chosen field, in her case cinema and mobile theatre, one of the oldest forms of entertainment and more popular than films in Manipur.
Not to speak of the absolute confidence that she has developed coming to terms with her sexuality in a society that was not willing to accept her on her own terms. A sexuality that even tested the patience and understanding of her parents -- father Manglem Huirem and mother Khomdonbi.
"Please understand that my son is more of a girl and takes hours to get ready to meet the press. From the very beginning I have been against my son's personality. But I could not reorient him," Manglem told IANS as he waited for Bishesh to make an appearance for an interview at their Imphal house recently.
Manglem, who recently retired from a government job, is also well known in Manipur's film and mobile theatre circles. And he specialises in the role of a "woman comedian" -- a fact that he brushes aside as insignificant, saying his role-playing was "merely acting".
Bishesh's mother Khomdonbi admitted to caning her effeminate son when he first showed signs of a special attraction for girl's dresses and girlish mannerisms. But in retrospect, Khomdonbi told IANS that she should have just accepted her son's sexuality.
Ever since her school days, Bishesh has been a much sought-after artiste in the mobile theatres, her parents recalled. But being a transgender, she had critics galore, who said she would never be able to do films. Bishesh, however, took that as a challenge and eventually ended up dominating the world of Manipuri cinema.
As she finally materialised, wearing Bermuda shorts and a Madras jacket, Bishesh, who also runs a beauty parlour for women, specialising in bridal make-up, said she is looking forward to the pageant -- especially as she missed out last year as "her passport was not ready and visa process incomplete".
Bishesh said she has not been able to find a sponsor, so will have to fund the contest fee, travel and other expenses all by herself. She also spoke about the experience of undergoing hormone therapy, in order to change into a woman, and the personality development courses she has taken with experts.
As a prominent transgender, Bishesh is often caught up in unnecessary controversies, though not of her making. But she has the support of other transgenders in the State who are confident that, come November, she will bring laurels to India -- and be crowned by Trixie Maristela, the current Miss International Queen of the Philippines.