“There is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original.” – Judith Butler
A year ago, when going to nightclubs and attending live events was still a part of human reality, I experienced my first ever drag performance by Peppermint at Kitty Su, New Delhi.
What stayed with me was the aura of undying energy and love radiating not only from the drag performers but also from the audience watching them. More than just elaborate make-up, costumes and larger than life performances, it felt like an alternate universe of sorts- a few moments of truly being alive!
I then realized why drag is so important to our times. Its multifaceted and its cause and effect can hardly be described in language. It can either be performed or truly absorbed!
The history of men performing as women in theatre is age old. The most iconic Shakespearean female characters like Lady Macbeth and Juliet were all performed by men. Patriarchy and the all-pervasive male gaze forbade the participation of women in performances. Inclusion of female actors required the breakdown of gendered restrictions and is a fairly recent phenomena.
Drag as an art form traces its roots in this very history of exclusion. But today, it goes on to subvert binaries of gender and breaks down the many layers of deep rooted patriarchy.
Drag and Theatre go hand in hand and there are many ways of seeing the past unfold into the present. Akshayambara, a Kannada play (within a play) directed by Sharanya Ramprakash has Draupadi portrayed by a male actor- Prasad Cherkady and Dushasana by a female actor-Sharanya herself. It remarkably exemplifies the undoing of gendered binaries.
Lavani, the dynamic dance form of Maharashtra, is slowly doing away with the idea of women performing for men, and is increasingly being acknowledged as a form performed by cross-dressed men. More recently, two male dancers, Anand Satam and Ashimik Kamthe performed Sangeet Bari, a play on the lives of Lavani dancers along with many other women dancers. Sejal Yadav, a research associate at the Godrej India Culture Lab curated Lavani Live, an event that explored the art form in great detail.
In the Indian context, Keshav Suri plays an important role in making drag performances more accessible and bringing drag to the mainstream. Through Kitty Su and Kitty Ko (nightclubs at The Lalit Ashok across India) he provides drag artists with a platform to experiment and thrive. Here’s exploring seven Indian drag queens, their distinct styles of storytelling and creative sensibilities.
For Sushant Divgikar, singing, dancing and modeling comes almost naturally. Popular for his stint with reality TV shows like Bigg Boss and SaReGaMaPa, and the winner of Mr. Gay India 2014, he has developed a huge fan base he rightfully deserves. He drew his drag inspiration from the drag culture that always seemed to exist in the Indian context and debuted in 2017 in a show headlined by Violet Chachki. Along with performing, he also trains and mentors young drag queens and wishes to make drag a more accessible form of art, in every sense.
Mark Mascarenhas who’s also a makeup artist, hairstylist and a rapper believes that drag contests the unfair rules that prescribe boys to wear blue and girls to wear pink. Drag allows one to play with a wide spectrum of rainbow colors, despite the gender. Widely known for self-produced kick-ass music videos that boast of high production value Marca doesn’t believe in the pronouns he or she. Mark or Marca feels the ideas of male or female only exist in textbooks, not the real world. Drag for Marca is a way to know more people, explore different lifestyles, stories and it ensures that the past never comes in the way of new beginnings.
Maya The Drag Queen
Alex Mathew’s initial memories of drag include watching Kamal Hassan’s blockbuster film Chachi 420. He romanticizes the saaree and usually wears one while performing drag. He finds it crucial to relate to the women of India, and feels that the saaree brings him closer to all the women he’s ever known. Turning to the art of drag was a milestone moment as it also helped him come out as a queer man. Apart from being one of the first mainstream drag performers of India, Alex is also an LGBT+ activist and conducts gender awareness workshops.
Ayushmaan first learnt about drag through Chandler’s mom from everyone’s favorite sit-com, FRIENDS. A human rights lawyer in Delhi, for him drag is an important tool to express and embrace his feminine side, that was otherwise curbed by societal norms. Lush is not just a character on stage, but also an integral part of his identity that stays along offstage as well. Lush Monsoon made his drag debut at The Delhi International Queer Theatre and Film Festival, 2017.
Betta Naan Stop
A professional dancer with Ashley Lobo Danceworx, Prateek Sachdeva studied musical theatre in Melbourne. After returning to Delhi and facing a series of disappointing auditions, he started experimenting with drag. Films and shows like Paris Is Burning and RuPaul’s Drag Race were instrumental in evoking the talented drag queen hidden in Prateek. Popular for some breathtaking dancing moves this beautiful queen slays on stage. And how!
Bengaluru based, ex medical student, Zeeshan Ali’s love for art and fashion inspired him to attempt styling, designing and make-up art. He strongly believes that make-up is an art form in itself, that can transform people and create characters. Also a stylist, extravagant costumes and fancy headgears define his ethos and signature style. Zeeshan’s first drag performance was loosely based on mental health, and he often tells stories that aren’t usually spoken about in popular discourse.
As the name suggests Sanket Sawant’s drag avatar takes inspiration from the beloved queer icon Lady Gaga. The Mumbai based artist employs fashion, styling and make-up art as means to express and showcase their skills. Widely known for impeccable dancing skills, Gentleman Gaga sets the stage on fire with their jaw-dropping belly dance!
While gender gets increasingly recognized as a more fluid concept, one does question the invisibility of drag kings in pop culture. Why don’t we see enough of them? Maybe because the female voice is never paid attention to, let alone acknowledging a woman’s sexual and artistic expression.
The Patchwork Ensemble’s contribution in creating a drag king narrative is definitely unique and noteworthy. Their play The Gentlemen’s Club dares to portray the lives of drag kings performing in the maximum city. Shamsher performed by Puja Sarup impersonates their drag alter-ego, Shammi Kapoor while Sheena Khalid as Alex emulates the musician Justin Timberlake. In the play, Puja’s character raises a very valid question that reasons the birth of almost every drag artist- “Did I choose Shammi, or did Shammi choose me?!”
The ongoing pandemic doesn’t seem to come in the way of Puja Sarup bringing to light (and life), more such king-like-characters. The theatre group’s most recent virtual development,
Social Influenza- How to Gain An Online Following and Puja’s very innovative piece Finding Ronny has garnered much appreciation. While we are not big fans of ‘online theatre’ we highly recommend everything that Puja does simply because she is a gem of an actor. Don’t believe us? Click on this link and decide for yourself.