It also brought her a whole lot of hate, which only delighted her.
“Why didn’t you tell us earlier? It would’ve got more ratings for the show”
These were the words mouthed by the MTV producers of Nikkiey Chawla’s first reality web series Crunch. She admits she got the show by “fluke”. “A friend of mine was supposed to enter the show with a partner, who couldn’t make it and he asked me. I auditioned for it, the makers liked me and I was on board instantly. The show started getting good ratings and honestly, I was just being myself. Until then, I hadn’t told them about me being a transsexual. After the show when I told them, they were shocked,” says Nikkiey, who happens to be India’s first transsexual model.
Her life story would make for an interesting movie plot, what with there being plenty of drama, action, thrill, and a fair amount of comedy. And she believes she’s born to be a star. Nikkiey had a brief brush with the glamour world as a model. Over the years, she’s walked the ramp on Indian and international runways, and has even been a part of reality shows on television and the web.
Ironically, though, what put her into history books — modelling — has now taken a backseat. Today, she’s transformed herself into an accomplished makeup artist successfully runs Makeover Brigade by Nikkiey Chawla. “In 2011, I shifted to Mumbai after participating in a reality show (MTV Crunch). I was working as a model and a makeup artist then, but I didn’t realise the complications surgery brings along with it. You tend to put on a lot of weight. For over two years, I was my heaviest best and in depression. I put on over 20 kgs. I couldn’t take up any reality shows that came my way, much against my will. I wanted to, and for the sole reason that I wanted to educate people about our community. There are many misunderstandings surrounding us (transsexuals) in the country, which need to be cleared,” explains Nikkiey.
Her journey is both fascinating and encouraging. For a large part of her life, Nikkiey was made to believe that her feelings “weren’t real”. Born into a Punjabi family, she was, after all, a boy at birth. But at a very tender age, Nikkiey realised that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body. And thus began her struggle.
At 17, she was ready to transform herself but chose to take a year to research about the surgery and meet doctors. The following year, she broke the news to her parents, who didn’t agree with the idea of her getting a sex-change operation. Nikkiey, at that time, decided to take the first step of starting her hormone treatment. Five years later, after finally convincing her parents in 2008, she transitioned from male to female, and ever since, there has been no looking back.
Presently, she’s focussing on freelance assignments and hopes to make a mark for herself in the fashion industry. “I do makeup. I work on films, commercials and fashion shows. I’m even directing some fashion shows nowadays. I want to start a fashion week of my own to promote the various Indian cultures. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for long and have started talking to people already. I’d like to launch it in Punjab and then spread it across multiple states,” she says.
Nikkiey’s openness about her past may amaze many. After all, how often do you meet transsexuals who’re willing to tell their stories to help others like them?
“My only aim behind being so open about my life is that I do not wish for any child or parent to go through what my parents and I did. I want to help. I’m not propagating surgery – that’s for the individual to decide. See a doctor, seek help. This is an irreversible surgery, so you have to be very calm and steady in your mind. You have to be 100 percent sure,” she warns.
The transition is not simply a matter of going from physically being a man to a woman. With varying effects from person to person, every story is unique as bodies react to hormonal treatments in different ways. “Processes like feminisation, baby fat in your body and breast enlargement take time to kick in and patience is key,” she says. “Some people opt for silicone implants and other cosmetic surgeries. I have not done either. I like going the natural way, and yes, hormones and the universe have helped me a lot.”
Perhaps, it is these lessons in patience that Nikkiey was able to carry forward into her new life in the glamour world. While she did have to deal with gossip mongers during her first ramp walk when the other models heard about her, she maintains that people have always treated her well. “I understand one thing from my life experiences – that people will make you feel out of place or different only if you make them realise that you’re different, and I have never given anyone that chance,” she says. “People talk about you in two cases – either if you are something, or if they honestly don’t have any work.”
Funnily, when she made an appearance on the UTV show Emotional Atyachaar, she received plenty of hate mails – all of which generated emotions of joy in her. “People started messaging and emailing me. Some people wrote to me saying that I was lying and that I was actually always a girl. They claimed I was lying about my surgery for publicity and TRPs, just to get instant fame. Honestly, I was very happy about the fact that people just assumed that I’ve always been a girl!”
Nikkiey has been an open book about her life story, but there are some things even she shies away from. “I am a shy girl when it comes to discussing my love life, but I will say that I’m a great lover and great friend. I believe that if you want people to love, respect and trust you, you have to do the same first. I don’t have a boyfriend at the moment and am happily single. I have had a few relationships and all of them were really good. Now, after shifting to Mumbai, my focus has been more my work than love. I will definitely be in a relationship at some point, but (I’m) not in a hurry. I know my man will find me.”
Presently, while she’s busy giving people makeovers, she also runs a blog to solve queries and questions of those parents and kids who are suffering from gender identity issues and kids who feel they’re trapped in the body of the opposite sex. She speaks hopefully about seeing a resolution to the issues surrounding the controversial Section 377, which is once again being deliberated in the Supreme Court. “I wish things should come to the level where it should be a breathable space for the LGBT community. But personally, I don’t think that ‘transgirls’ (sic) have anything to do with LGBT. It should be LGB, not LGBT (in my opinion).”
While she may have been battled depression for a couple of years, Nikkiey hopes that 2016 will have many adventures in store for her. “This year, I want to do something for myself. Depression can be very difficult. One day, I told myself that if I can’t love my flaws, I’ll never love my beauty. And that’s when I snapped out of it,” she says as she gears up for a new photo shoot.
“I’m going to do a shoot urging people to stop cruelty against animals,” she says. “And I will do it despite not having lost my excess weight. The idea, in a way, is to also show that healthy girls are beautiful too.”
By Sid Verma
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/Nikkiey-Chawla