Shyraa Roy: blazing a trail

August 29, 2021

As she preps to release her new single ‘Duniya’, singer Shyraa Roy talks to Instep about her journey as a trans woman and her work in the entertainment industry.

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Shyraa Roy is living proof of the fact that pure talent is simply that: talent. Looks, social standing or labels should not be allowed to define it.

Shyraa Roy is about as bold and resilient as they come. The 25-year-old singer has spent the last couple of years climbing the rungs of the entertainment industry, all the while facing transphobia almost every step of the way. The fact that she was crowned Miss Trans Pakistan – and became the first recipient of this title in the country’s history – earlier this summer goes to show the impact she has already managed to have on the industry’s landscape.

Gender journey

“I realized I was different at the age of 8,” she tells Instep in a candid conversation, “but the differences didn’t really reflect themselves at the time because everything was normal to me. As I grew up, when people started bullying me and society highlighted these differences, I realized that the world doesn’t see me as a woman like I do. So I was having issues by the age of 11.”

The condition she was dealing with, she says, is called gender dysphoria – a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and the sex assigned to them at birth. Those around her were reluctant to embrace her reality. Harassment from within her family subsequently led her to distance herself from her loved ones for the sake of her mental health. When she was 16, she decided to come out as a trans woman.

“I consulted psychiatrists at various hospitals,” she recalls, “and when they told me that I have to go for surgeries, my parents did not support me at the time. I did it all alone. I had to separate from my family for a while because they did not accept these things, but now things are better between us. And while some friends abandoned me, there were also those who accepted me. I am happy with the decision I have made. I didn’t want to stay in the middle; I wanted to be on one side. There are still some things that I need to get done, but I will get them done at the right time, when I feel like it is the right time for me. People still consider this taboo, but I really don’t care because it’s my body, it’s my gender, it’s my choice, and they’re my amaal – I will one day have to answer to Allah, so no one else has the right to question my actions.”

Musical aspirations

Watching actresses – especially Madhuri Dixit – on television as a child drew Shyraa towards the entertainment industry, until her brother eventually inspired her to explore her talents and venture into the world of showbiz.

“I joined radio [as an RJ] in 2012,” she remembers. “In 2019 I started modelling but I didn’t really enjoy it, so a month later I branched out into singing.” This led to the release of her first single ‘Raat’, a melodious ditty that showcased her voice. But creating a video for the song led Shyraa to some unexpected heartache. When the person who shot the initial video deleted the footage upon finding out that she is trans – she recalls he told her that “mujhay trans logon sae nafrat hai” – she cried a lot. Her friend Sunny UG then stepped in and helped her make the clip, accommodating her in the shoot for another artist.

For her next single, Shyraa hoped to pair up with a well-known name from the industry, which led her to Mohsin Abbas Haider, whom she was in touch with on Facebook. She shared ‘Raat’ with him; he liked her voice and agreed to the collaboration. “One day, I said to Mohsin that I want to tell him something: I am a transgender woman and I want to be upfront about it.” She asked him if he still wanted to do the song with her. “He said yes, he will, because he appreciates the fact that I told him the truth.” And that’s how her second single, ‘Kamli’, happened. The track helped the aspiring singer get a foothold in the music world, enroute to her dream of making a name for herself as an entertainer.

Beauty queen

Alongside her aspirations to become a successful singer, Shyraa was also exploring other avenues to prove herself. Avenues that included beauty pageants. “I was in touch with Sonia Ahmed – the president of Pakistan’s beauty pageants – since last year,” she reveals. “I applied for Miss Pakistan World last year, but I had no experience or professional shoots at the time and I wasn’t even in the industry properly. Just before the release of ‘Kamli’, I contacted Sonia again. She explained the criteria to me, and I had to get photoshoots done accordingly.”

Shyraa says she had never even dreamt of being selected, what with the many beautiful women participating in the pageant. “The selection process was conducted virtually because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I got my photoshoots; the judges were astonished to see those photographs, and I was selected in the top three. The jury then interviewed me in a long Zoom call. Ultimately, instead of giving me the Miss Pakistan World title, they decided to crown me Miss Trans Pakistan to empower this community and start a new category with me. It began as Miss Pakistan but after I was declared the winner they added the word “trans” to the title. Miss Pakistan World 2020 Areej Chaudhry crowned me at an event in Lahore, and my sponsor was Noshaba Zia.”

Her life changed overnight at this point, and the title even brought a change in how she sees herself: she says she now feels a kind of beautiful she never did before.

Onwards

With a successful musical collaboration and a beauty pageant title in the bag, Shyraa is now gearing up to release her next single. It’s called ‘Duniya’, featuring Kashif Ali Babar on vocals, and was produced by Sheraz Uppal.

“I was talking to director Jahanzeb UG, who is the younger brother of Sunny UG and has a production company called Apple Tree Production, when the idea to work with a seasoned musician came up. We approached a couple of singers, but things didn’t make sense with them. Then we came across Kashif Ali Babar from Coke Studio and decided to do a song together; it was Kashif who said that Sheraz Uppal should produce the song. Me and Kashif jammed the song and its lyrics on the guitar and a story emerged of a ‘90s style love story. Dr. Bu Abdullah, a very kind personality from Dubai, supported the project.”

“The song is called ‘Duniya’ because it’s about two individuals who are each other’s world and have left their own zaati duniya behind,” she explains. “It’s a beautiful number. There are beautiful shots in the video that try to capture ‘90s-inspired cute moments that are missing in today’s relationships. These elements of love have become too modern and lust-driven. They are no longer shy, innocent. We are trying to recreate that feel of ‘90s love with this song.”

As for who she would like to work with in the future, she is quick to respond with the name of Bilal Saeed. “I like the funk in his style,” she chimes. “I haven’t done a funky song yet and I see that vibe with Bilal Saeed, so Insha’Allah, if life gives me the chance, I’ll do that.”

She also hopes to pursue acting and is working on a couple of ventures on that front, including a project inspired by her life, as well as a feature film called Ishq-e-Aatish that is being directed by Nadeem Cheema, “a big, heavy project,” as she describes it, that is likely to start production in 2022.

In the future, she hopes to keep breaking barriers for the trans community. “Internationally the LGBTQ+ society has so many rights that we don’t have in Pakistan,” she laments. “I hope to start that here. I’ve already started the beauty pageant campaign with Miss Trans Pakistan. I want to normalize this in the entertainment field. I will be working on my production house, Roy Motion Pictures, and our projects will be good, quality entertainment. And I will help trans girls if they want to enter this industry, so I will definitely be somebody that offers support.”



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