As Indians, we take pride in our culture — our blend of cultures, in fact. An aspect to keep in mind, however, is that culture may not always be brought to life by beliefs or ancestry. Sometimes, a culture may be as simple as a group of people deeply believing in a process, activity or person whose ideals they strive to keep alive.
Unlike widely popular and accepted cultures of hip-hop or even memes, drag culture has always seemed to be a victim of backlash. What can be defined as an art form beyond gender constructs that allows people to express themselves by accentuation features of a separate gender-identity, is in all likelihood a culture that most Indians do not accept.
As part of a college project and in an attempt to understand this colourful culture better, a team of students from the Xavier Institute of Communications filmed a documentary, ‘Queens’, showing the lives of drag queens Miss Bhenji, Glorious Luna and Dolly Divine in Mumbai. Apurva Talluri, Kanisha Saha, Eesha Thorat, Swati Joshi, Sheetal Tulshian, Tushar Kanti, Smriti Chaudhary and Sharon Lewis had an idea to explore drag culture in India but wanted to emphasise on the humans involved, rather than the supposed glamour that surrounds them.
The documentary makes you wonder, what is it really that garners the hate for these artists? Is it that they choose to dress how they want to dress? Or is it the fact that they put on a different persona for a few hours of the day? If the answer to both these questions is yes, then by that logic, we are all participating in drag culture. For don’t we really wear what we want to and put on a different persona for a few hours a day, and sometimes more? For the rest, maybe it’s just about shifting the perspective and appreciating art.
“The journey to finding one’s drag persona is deeply personal. We tried to delve into the influences, inspirations and insights that underpin a drag queen’s persona. Another aim was to investigate the biases and barriers drag queens face and how society reacts to them,” explains the team.
Queens was not made for the viewer to sympathise, but to inform and change perspectives. It was made for people to understand that acceptance is key and that drag does not equal to just entertainment — that would invalidate all that drag stands for. The team says, “Working on this project made us realise there’s so much about their world that we don’t know of. It is not all glitz and glam like we see from the outside. They’re constantly struggling to feel included.”
The time these performers spend as their drag personas is their happy place. If societal judgement and biases are placed upon their process, then surely, the place is no happier. Queens shows us that for some, even the happiness of being yourself is limited.
You can find Kumar Iyer (Dolly Divine) here.
You can find Nilay Joshi (Miss Bhenji) here.
You can find Suruj (Glorious Luna) here.
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