By Liam Lacey
OK, so the premise is a bit of an eye-roller: A South Asian transgender woman discovers she's the father of a 14-year-old boy, giving her two secrets to reveal to her conservative Indian family. Venus, the feature debut of Montreal-based documentary filmmaker Eisha Marjara, can't escape its stilted trans-identity set-up, but this modest comedy has a refreshing innocence of tone and some deft comic performances.
Marjara doesn't waste time getting to the point. Sid, while passing as a man to visit her parents, confronts an adolescent boy she finds following her and learns the secret: Ralph (Jaimie Mayers) is her son. Though he shares dad's caterpillar furry eyebrows Ralph's white-skinned like his mom, not brown.
"You are white and scrawny and I am brown and beautiful," declares Sid. "There is no chance that I could be your father."
Yet, the circumstantial evidence is there. Back in high school, Sid slept with a girl before they went their separate ways. For a while, not much happens. The puppyish Ralph, unaffected by typical teen-aged skittishness about sexual variations, is not only accepting ("Transgender dad — so cool") but intrigued by this gender anything-but-grey zone. He attaches himself to Sid and starts hanging out at his new dad-mom's place without telling his parents (Amber Goldfarb and Peter Miller).
Ralph even endears himself to Sid's parents (Zena Daruwalla and Gordon Warnecke, both drily funny), who are delighted to have a grandchild. Mamaji appreciates Ralph's enthusiasm for Indian cooking. Papaji is happy to have someone to participate in the boyish activities Sid always avoided. A mildly envious Sid sees them revelling in the kind of son they always wanted.
Complications ensue when Sid's handsome but closet-case boyfriend (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) comes back into her life but doesn't want a kid hanging around or to acknowledge publicly that he's dating a trans woman.
The comedy here works much better than the dramatic elements, where the secrets drag on illogically long and the accusations and revelations all sound a little familiar. But writer/director Marjara keeps the dialogue moving apace. And in Debargo Sanyal, who plays Sid, she has an exceptional casting coup.
Sanyal, who has appeared in a few mainstream movies (Everything's Fine with Robert De Niro) and TV roles, spent seven years, off and on, in Cori Thomas' off-Broadway hit stage play, When January Feels Like Summer, as a transitioning woman named Indira. The preparation must have helped.
He hits every right note here, an original comic character whose constant state of the jitters is balanced by a puckish wit and flashes of imperiousness. I'd be happy to see Sid the Sequel, even without the ethnic and gender baggage.
Venus. Written and directed by Eisha Marjara. Starring Debargo Sanyal, Jaimie Mayers, Zena Daruwalla and Gordon Warnecke, Amber Goldfarb and Peter Miller and Pierre-Yves Cardinal. Opens May 18 at Cineplex Yonge-Dundas Theatre, Toronto and at the Vancity Theatre, Vancouver.