Photos: India’s drag queens on identities beyond cross-dressing

Being a drag artiste is more than cross-dressing. Queer men who take up this art form have found their alter egos in their feminine avatars. Drag as a term—reportedly first used in 1870, has found its way into the Indian queer space of entertainment with an underlying message of non-conformity, trampling over the definitions of being a man, woman or the other.

UPDATED ON APR 08, 2018 04:53 PM IST 6 Photos
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29-year-old Alex Mathew transforms into Maya, turning the “he” into “she” and the “she” is an “epitome of elegance, sassy and outspoken-- characteristics that Alex hardly depicts while working at a hotel in Bengaluru. A drag artiste lives a life of contrasts similar to day and night, seamlessly being two different characters. It allows men like Alex to invoke their expression of femininity through what is now an established art form across the globe. (Courtesy Alex Mathew)

29-year-old Alex Mathew transforms into Maya, turning the “he” into “she” and the “she” is an “epitome of elegance, sassy and outspoken-- characteristics that Alex hardly depicts while working at a hotel in Bengaluru. A drag artiste lives a life of contrasts similar to day and night, seamlessly being two different characters. It allows men like Alex to invoke their expression of femininity through what is now an established art form across the globe. (Courtesy Alex Mathew)

UPDATED ON APR 08, 2018 04:53 PM IST
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According to Alex (pictured), this process of transformation explores gender fluidity. “I don’t want to be he or she in the way genders have been defined or need the validation of being a male,” said Alex. Drag as a term—reportedly first used in 1870, has found its way into the Indian queer space of entertainment with an underlying message of non-conformity, trampling over the definitions of being a man, woman or the other. (Courtesy Alex Mathew)

According to Alex (pictured), this process of transformation explores gender fluidity. “I don’t want to be he or she in the way genders have been defined or need the validation of being a male,” said Alex. Drag as a term—reportedly first used in 1870, has found its way into the Indian queer space of entertainment with an underlying message of non-conformity, trampling over the definitions of being a man, woman or the other. (Courtesy Alex Mathew)

UPDATED ON APR 08, 2018 04:53 PM IST
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Environmental lawyer Ikshaku in the avatar of drag queen Kush. Hailing from Assam and now based in Delhi, Ikshaku “started off by simply donning the bedsheets and old clothes” of his mother and later lip-synched to songs. While Ishaku as a lawyer is gentle and quiet, his alter ego Kush or Kushboo is “fierce, liberated, fashionable, risque, avant garde, a singer, actress and ruler.” (Courtesy Sharif D Rangnekar)

Environmental lawyer Ikshaku in the avatar of drag queen Kush. Hailing from Assam and now based in Delhi, Ikshaku “started off by simply donning the bedsheets and old clothes” of his mother and later lip-synched to songs. While Ishaku as a lawyer is gentle and quiet, his alter ego Kush or Kushboo is “fierce, liberated, fashionable, risque, avant garde, a singer, actress and ruler.” (Courtesy Sharif D Rangnekar)

UPDATED ON APR 08, 2018 04:53 PM IST
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Ayushman aka Lush (pictured), has a similar story of being a lawyer and an active drag queen. “For most of my childhood in Ranchi, I had censored my life in a manner that I could never embrace myself for who I was,” said Ayushman. (HT Photo)

Ayushman aka Lush (pictured), has a similar story of being a lawyer and an active drag queen. “For most of my childhood in Ranchi, I had censored my life in a manner that I could never embrace myself for who I was,” said Ayushman. (HT Photo)

UPDATED ON APR 08, 2018 04:53 PM IST
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Drag artists Lush, Kush and Betta seen changing into their costumes in the washroom of Tis Hazari metro station, Delhi. The queens, however call themselves sisters-- unified by their distinct characters, large-size eyelashes, self-stitched outfits with sequins. Many perform for free so as to garner a larger audience, making more people aware of what they do. (HT Photo)

Drag artists Lush, Kush and Betta seen changing into their costumes in the washroom of Tis Hazari metro station, Delhi. The queens, however call themselves sisters-- unified by their distinct characters, large-size eyelashes, self-stitched outfits with sequins. Many perform for free so as to garner a larger audience, making more people aware of what they do. (HT Photo)

UPDATED ON APR 08, 2018 04:53 PM IST
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24-year-old Prateek who is otherwise soft spoken and shy transforms as Betta Naan Stop into a character that is loud, vivacious and glittering. Artistes such as Prateek (who has a self-funded YouTube channel) have made drag their priority and want it to be accepted as a “respectable art form”. Similarly Sushant Digwikar aka Rani Ko-He-Nur aims to take drag to the national stage using TV as a tool while Alex believes that there can be one drag queen for each state of India. (HT Photo)

24-year-old Prateek who is otherwise soft spoken and shy transforms as Betta Naan Stop into a character that is loud, vivacious and glittering. Artistes such as Prateek (who has a self-funded YouTube channel) have made drag their priority and want it to be accepted as a “respectable art form”. Similarly Sushant Digwikar aka Rani Ko-He-Nur aims to take drag to the national stage using TV as a tool while Alex believes that there can be one drag queen for each state of India. (HT Photo)

UPDATED ON APR 08, 2018 04:53 PM IST

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