Although many of us today associate it with the glamorous and path-breaking RuPaul, drag culture is not alien to Indian performance art. ‘Launda Naach’, for example, was a popular folk dance of the Bhojpuri-speaking community, performed by men who dressed up as women. The art form was popularised by poet and playwright, Bhikhari Thakur in the early twentieth century. Today too, India has a colourful drag culture, with so much that is yet to be explored.
These incredible desi artists are experimenting within drag and owning it by incorporating elements of Bollywood, various performance art styles, and their unique personal journeys.
Patruni Chidananda Sastry (@sas3dancingfeet)
Also known as ‘Suffocated Art Specimen’, Patruni is an expressionist dancer, performance artist, visual artist, model and drag queen. They have performed at Hyderabad Lit Festival, ICCR, NHRD, among other national and international spaces, and have given Tranimal Drag Art a unique, Indian approach. Patruni has founded Dragvanti, an online platform for the drag community in India.
Inspiration: Daniel Lismore, and the queens of the yesteryears like Bal Gandharva, Chapal Rani, and Bhikari Thakur.
Can’t start your day without? Tea! Chai with gossip is definitely sickening.
Celebrity crush: Gottmik. I can’t take my eyes off them.
Xen Aerat (@xen.aerat)
Xen Aerat is an artist on a quest to promote equity in all that they do. Currently, she is pursuing explorations in the realm of abstract art, drag, performance, and movement. They believe that the artist is present in everyone, and that art is an articulation of an experiential, individualistic exploration of existence.
Inspiration: True inspiration is an internal process. Everything else is a replication or a spin-off.
Can’t start your day without? Smiling at myself in the mirror and offering kind words to the being in the mirror.
Current celebrity crush: Jim Carrey, off late.
Hiten Noonwal (@hiten.noonwal)
Hiten Noonwal is a performance artist, multidisciplinary designer, design educator, and cosplayer. Having worked as a fashion designer, they have received over 500 awards in various fields of art, fashion, and design. They were listed by Vagabomb magazine among the world’s top seven genderfluid artists breaking stereotypes through their performances.
Inspiration: Anything and everything around me in physical and energy form – incidents, feelings, artists, people, animals, etc.
Can’t start your day without? Water! I need two glasses first thing in the morning.
Current celebrity crush: Henry Cavill!
Miss Bhenji (@missbhenji)
Miss Bhenji is an aesthetic drag queen and psychologist who has performed across Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Goa. She mostly performs Bollywood numbers, followed by funny and engaging interactions with the audience.
Inspiration: Madhuri Dixit Nene for dance, Kareena Kapoor Khan for channelling my inner diva, and Bianca Del Rio from RuPaul’s Drag Race for being a true queen!
Can’t start your day without? My phone, of course. Every story is new gossip!
Current celebrity crush: Saqib Saleem.
Avatari Devi aka Saransh Sugandh (@avatari.devi)
Saransh Sugandh is a visual and performance artist, researcher, educator, and facilitator. As Avatari Devi, they work at reimagining Launda Naach – a folk theatre form from their native state of Bihar where men dress as women. They have a keen interest in documenting and working on indigenous knowledge traditions. Their films have been nominated and screened at festivals such as Mumbai International Film Festival, CMS Vatavaran, Dominican Republic Film Festival, and the IDSFFK (Kerala).
Inspiration: Bhikhari Thakur, for being seriously ahead of his time. Bianca Del Rio, for slicing anyone who takes themselves too seriously. Ritika Mittal, for following her ethic and her heart so passionately.
Can’t start your day without? Lemon, water, and besan laddoos!
Current celebrity crush: The lyrically articulate Alok Vaid-Menon.
Kween Mallika (@kween_mallika)
Born and brought up in New Delhi, Mallika now lives in Toronto, Canada. They perform at all major nightclubs in the city. Sprinkling the magic of Bollywood in her performances for the Canadian audience, she has rightfully earned the title of ‘Bollywood Queen of Toronto’ and ‘Madhuri Dixit of Drag’.
Inspiration: I am a huge fan of Madhuri Dixit, Rekha ji, Sridevi, and Helen. Recently, Nora Fatehi. Also, my mom! The strength she is giving me by accepting me has given me a sense of pride.
Can’t start your day without? A cuppa chai!
Celebrity crush: Some of them are Ranveer Singh, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Prithviraj Sukumaran.
Malai says she gets her drag name from being catcalled one day. “They said that I’m so thick, that I look like a malai kulfi, and I just ran with it.” Having grown up in a small town in India, Malai now lives in New York.
Inspiration: The beautiful women in my life, on and off screen. My mother is my number one source of inspiration when it comes to embodying beauty with grace. I watched Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela and I remember thinking – what a woman! I realized that as a gay kid, it is important to have female role models who are unapologetic and bold with their choices, like Rekha, Sridevi, or Madhuri.
Can’t start your day without? Thinking about what I’m going to do next. I have so many dreams and sometimes you just have to remind yourself of where you’re headed.
Celebrity crush: Vicky Kaushal. I’m also hopelessly in love with Abhay Deol and I’m hoping one day he’ll respond to at least one of the 3,500 messages I’ve sent him on Instagram.
Jatin More (@miss_komolikafucks)
An aspiring drag artist, Jatin More goes by miss_komolikafucks on Instagram. He is currently pursuing graphic design.
Inspiration: Yvie Oddly is one of my favourite drag queens. She was the reason I started drag in the first place.
Can’t start your day without? Some yoga followed by breakfast and Lady Gaga’s music. It helps my anxiety sashay away.
Celebrity crush: Naomi Smalls, because they are an angel to me. Their persona, charm, and gayness attract me like ain’t nobody, honey!
Cologne Doll (@thecolognedoll)
Cologne Doll started her drag journey in Hyderabad, in 2019. They have performed at several clubs, virtual events, at the Hyderabad Art Gallery, as well as at Toronto’s Rangeela Pride, 2020. She is known to turn up the party with her lip syncs.
Inspiration: Iconic Indian actresses, and sensations like Amy Winehouse and Lana Del Rey. My drag sisters, and the will to go beyond societal norms is very inspiring to me.
Can’t start your day without? Good positive reinforcement through words, which tells me to stay true to myself. Also, some Indian gooseberry pulp with water.
Celebrity crush: Paul Rudd.
Kiran Kore (@kirankoreofficial)
Kiran Kore has achieved inspiring success in the dance world by becoming the first male Lavni dancer to perform in a Marathi film, titled ‘Chhatrapati Shasan’. He has won over 400 prizes in state, national, and international dance competitions, and has done over 100 charity shows in rural areas to help disabled, orphaned, and HIV positive children.
Inspiration: I don’t have a guru in the dance field, so I take inspiration from every artist.
Can’t start your day without? Listening to dance music and practicing.
Celebrity Crush: Ranveer Singh.