A person who has defied all odds and has strived to make her place in the world – Alina Khan is a legend in her own right. Alina is a Pakistani transgender who was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and has built a career for herself from a dancer to a global star.
Alina made her debut in the 16-minutes short film ‘Darling’ which bagged the award for Best Short Film at the Venice International Film Festival. It is the story of a trans woman Alina and a boy Shani who has a crush on her and how together they work hard to land Alina the spot of a lead dancer. Her second project was ‘Joyland’, a feature film written and directed by Saim Sadiq. It is set in Lahore around a patriarchal family that considers male children superior to females. The story unfolds as a man in the family falls for a transgender, Biba which leads to disruption in their plain sailing lives. The movie ‘Joyland ‘also got International recognition and bagged a Jury prize at Cannes Film Festival.
As Alina Khan made her debut at Cannes, the whole nation had its eyes on her. Little did anyone know the backstory behind her journey and the pain behind her ever-so-charming smile. I had the honor of interviewing her as she returned back from France and as she laid bare her life’s hardest moments, I could not help but take notes from her journey. It is safe to say by the end of it from becoming a fan of her acting I became a fan of her personality!
Alina Khan made her debut at the 75th Cannes Film Festival with a beaming smile. She wore a yellow skirt with a pink crop top and looked stunning. However, she revealed that she was really nervous as this was the first time she was traveling outside Pakistan, and had trouble deciding what to wear.
She talked about how she felt welcomed at Cannes and she realized that people there only judge you based on your talent and not on your gender. She mentioned how elated she was when ‘Joyland’ won two awards at Cannes and despite all the hurdles she was grateful that she made Pakistan proud.
Alina Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan and has four siblings; one sister and three brothers. She shared her memories of early childhood:
She also talked about how her mother wanted to support her but could not evidently back her up due to pressure from society. She mentioned the stigma that has always been attached to transgenders and how everyone assumes that they can only be dancers or sex workers when in reality they are capable of much more.
Eventually, at the age of 13 or 14, after several unsuccessful attempts, she ran away from her home and met a transwoman who introduced her to Neeli Rana, who also became her guru and introduced her to the trans community. From there onwards, her journey of finding a place for herself in society began.
How She Landed The Role In ‘Darling’ And ‘Joyland’
She described how she got the role in the film ‘Darling’ when a boy had already been selected to do Alina’s role and it was only five days before the shoot when she was selected.
She also said that she gave an audition for the movie ‘Joyland’ as her character was different from her role in ‘Darling’.
Her Work Life And Her Experience On Set
Alina found it difficult to play her role and also thinks that transgenders are given only limited characters to play that are stereotyped.
Apart from acting in these films, she has also modeled for clothing and makeup brands.
When I asked her how her experience was on the sets of ‘Joyland’, she described it as an amazing experience and how everyone made her feel comfortable and not unwelcome even once.
Her Relationship With Her Family
Alina opened up about how she always wanted to mend her relationship with her family. She talked about how after the release of ‘Darling’ she got a call from her brother. Her elder sister still wasn’t talking to her then but eventually, everyone appreciated her and were happy for her. She also mentioned that she met her family after she got the award.
Her Expectations For The Trans Community And A Message For All Her Fans
Alina is optimistic to inspire young transgenders and hopes to break the norm of doing stereotypical jobs associated with transgenders. She admits that the change will come slowly but has high hopes for her community.
Alina thinks there is still a long way to go before transgenders are given the respect they deserve. She talked about the initiatives taken by the government to safeguard the interests of transgenders including the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, and also the allocation of a 0.5 percent quota for transgenders in Government Jobs which was approved as part of Sindh Civil Services (Amendment) Bill 2022. She thinks this is the first step but certainly not sufficient.
In the end, she concluded with a note that encapsulated the plight of all transgenders. She wishes that people understand that transgenders are also humans and they deserve the same respect just like anybody else.
Hearing this, I asked myself is it too much to ask?
For Alina, this is just the beginning of her journey. She is well aware of the many obstacles that are bound to come her way but she is ready to overcome them all. Although presently she is not working on any other projects but is hopeful that she will get good roles that represent her community well.
As I talked to Alina I could not help but notice the pain in her voice. As we concluded the interview she urged me to put her message across so that it helps her community. There was desperation in her tone, but that was not for herself but for her community and her people. She wanted the best for them. Although transgender laws are applicable in Pakistan and by law they are protected but sadly we all know too well that this is not the case.
All they ask for themselves is to be respected, not to be called out on the streets by demeaning names, and be given opportunities so that they can earn a good living. I end the note by asking the same question, is it too much to ask?