India’s Oprah Winfrey is a Chennai-based transgender with a talk show. After Oprah called it a day, American web magazine The Daily Beast featured 12 talk show hosts across the world who have an Oprah-like status. Rose Venkatesan, nee Ramesh Babu, was the chosen one from India. ‘Oprah may have been the world’s first Black billionaire, but talk show host Rose is breaking barriers of a different kind in India, as the country’s first transgendered host,’ wrote the website.
Since 2007, 30-year-old Rose’s Tamil talk show has addressed difficult issues like prostitution and marital abuse. This July, she moved to Kalaignar TV, linked to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. Rose hosts, produces, directs and edits Ithu Rose Neram (It’s Rose Time). “I don’t know about being the Oprah of India, maybe Tamil Nadu,” she says. “It’s an apt comparison because Oprah also started small and look at how big she is, I’ll get there. The show didn’t come to me, it was my idea.”
Two years later, she’s a celebrity among the Tamil audience, which has accepted this soft-spoken young woman. Like Oprah, Rose’s bumpy life experiences have tailor-made her for the job of a tele-agony aunt. “Before I got the show I was also a socially oppressed, suicidal, transgender personality.” She even attempted suicide by eating sleeping pills after a bad relationship.
Trained in the US as a biomedical engineer, she came out of the closet soon after returning home to Tamil Nadu in 2004. Her family was less than happy, but she says she rolled with it, and began changing her appearance, at first with just make-up, slowly graduating to feminine clothes. For the last two years she’s been taking hormones for the final lap: a sex change. If the rest of the country doesn’t know her yet, there’s a fair chance they will soon enough. Rose is in talks with National Geographic channel to produce a documentary chronicling her impending sex change operation.